Case Study

How MassChallenge FinTech and Brandeis International Business School Collaborate to Create Experiential Learning and Support Entrepreneurs



MassChallenge’s vision of a creative, inspired society means we’re focused on not only supporting entrepreneurs, but also on strengthening the local and global innovation economies around them.  It is a group effort, and we’re dedicated to collaborating with partners who share the same vision.

For its inaugural year, MassChallenge FinTech (MCFT) worked with Brandeis International Business School as a strategic community partner. The International Business School, based at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, offers five graduate programs and two accelerated graduate programs, as well as opportunities for undergraduates. With the overarching goal of strengthening the fintech ecosystem, the concept behind the partnership was two-fold:

(1) Support the 2019 MCFT cohort of fintech startups through individualized classroom projects unique to each startup’s needs and priorities.

(2) Create experiential, educational opportunities for students to increase their understanding of the fintech industry and its potential for impact.

“We’re always looking for new ways to incorporate experiential learning into our curriculum,” said Dean Kathryn Graddy. “The partnership between Brandeis International Business School and MassChallenge Fintech provides our students with hands-on opportunities to gain meaningful experience and build important relationships with some of the leading entrepreneurs in greater Boston, which is a hotbed for fintech innovation. There’s a lot of synergy taking place.”



Roughly half of the 21 startups in our 2019 cohort engaged with Brandeis International Business School on semester-long projects customized to each startups’ needs. Each project featured a team of 5-6 graduate Master of Business Administration or Master of Science in Finance students led by a Faculty Advisor. Students worked on comprehensive investment decks, competitive industry analysis, data analytics, and customer research, with concrete deliverables for each startup.

“We feel really fortunate to be able to work with the students at Brandeis,” Kate Terry, Co-Founder and COO of MCFT19 Platinum Winner Surround Insurance, said. Surround Insurance is designing an innovative insurance offering for the under-served community of urban professionals, and the company will launch a subscription insurance starter pack later this year. “They were smart and driven, their faculty advisor was very helpful, and they completed a really useful analysis that we don’t have the bandwidth to do ourselves at this point.”

Not only has the program been beneficial for entrepreneurs, but students and faculty have viewed the partnership as a one-of-a-kind opportunity to gain real-life skills and knowledge. Jiaxin Ni, MSF ‘19, worked with MCFT partner FinTech Sandbox and Surround Insurance to create a prototype for using new streams of data to better inform key business strategies. “We had to brainstorm and use our imaginations to turn our ideas into reality,” she said of the project. “This is a process just like starting a company.”


According to faculty, the partnership exposed students to entrepreneurs working at the forefront of creating new ideas, technologies, and products, while pushing students to think creatively about how they could use these technologies. “This exposure has been tremendously valuable to preparing these students for the workforce of tomorrow,” said one faculty advisor.

Hamza Abdurezak, Senior Lecturer at the International Business School and faculty advisor for students working with MCFT19 cohort member Forwardlane, reiterated the unique nature of the learning experience. Forwardlane is an AI fintech startup that powers personalized insights for wealth and asset management. “How do you make an investment deck? There is no one class that teaches that,” Abdurezak said.

Abdurezak observed that learning through real-life experience about the interface of the finance and technology industries allowed students to make connections with what they are learning in the academic environment. It has taught them critical skills, like how to communicate professionally with clients, how to make decisions with incomplete data, and how to manage projects with multiple stakeholders. Nathan Stevenson, CEO and Founder of Forwardlane, found the project equally as valuable.

“As a founder that has raised $6.3M in funding, I found the depth and quality of the team’s work exemplary. It was a wonderful experience providing iterative feedback on their research, sharing my experience as to how the market and industry might view their work,” he said. “The work was valuable industry context for Forwardlane, useful research for our investment deck – and firsthand experience for the students in building an investment deck. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Brandeis – a truly exceptional experience both personally and professionally.”

Upon the completion of their project with ForwardLane, students presented a comprehensive white paper on the industry, published here. Abdurezak reiterated the symbiotic nature of the relationship, saying “At the end of the day we’re trying to help the company — it’s not just academic research, it’s client-driven.”


Several students have continued relationships with the MCFT19 cohort through summer internships, and MassChallenge FinTech and Brandeis International Business School are deepening their partnership for 2020 by exploring future collaborative research on the Boston innovation and VC ecosystem in order to better support both startups and innovation partners in the rapidly growing industry of fintech.

Additionally, the International Business School is taking its own steps to prepare students for the future of fintech.

“To succeed in finance, many of today’s students and professionals will need a different set of skills, including an understanding of coding and business analytics,” said Dean Graddy. “That’s why we’re launching a new Fintech concentration as part of our Master of Science in Finance (MSF) degree. And that’s why we’re excited to be partnering with MassChallenge FinTech.”

MassChallenge FinTech Program Director Devon Sherman has been extremely pleased with the quality of the students’ work and the diligence of the International Business School team. She looks forward to the future of this partnership. “Ultimately, innovation in financial services requires creative and intentional collaboration. At MCFT we’re excited to continue to lead and facilitate these student-startup partnerships in order to continue to tackle the most pressing challenges and promising opportunities in fintech.”

Applications for MCFT20 open in September. Want to learn more about MassChallenge FinTech? Reach out and subscribe to our newsletter below.