Skip to content
Scout team members meet in their office in Ryder Hall. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University. 2018.

Professor Barrios Ponce had Scout co-founder Laura Marelic ‘15 in class, and she had the privilege of witnessing Laura’s tireless passion daily when she was first getting Scout off the ground. Alex Turnwall, a Northeastern alumnus and faculty member at the time, also believed in her and helped her vision; he was the first faculty advisor to Scout.

Now, Laura is running her own studio, Loco Studio, with fellow Northeastern alumnus Connor Russo. He was one of Scout’s co-founders, among the organization’s original team of designers and developers; he also served as the first chief operating officer (COO), and her boyfriend! They worked on Scout together and after graduation, started another venture together, an app called Cookin. The entrepreneurial spirit Laura embraced in college remains a driving force in how she is building her career.

“I have always worked for myself; I have never had a ‘traditional’ employer,” she said. “Some people find this surprising, but through Northeastern, I learned that being an entrepreneur is a legitimate avenue that’s possible to me – and I like it a lot. I attribute so much of my knowledge about business and entrepreneurship to my learning at Northeastern and Scout.”

Laura and Connor started Loco Studio in January 2018, with the help and support of their networks from Northeastern and Scout, as a way to make money while still having control over their schedules and maintaining the flexibility to travel. It has truly been an amazing year of growth for Laura and Connor, who have had the opportunity to learn about a lot of different industries through their clients of diverse backgrounds.

Laura admits, however, there are certain challenges – and opportunities – that come with being a woman in the entrepreneurship world.

“I’ve learned tons of lessons about running and working in a start-up,” said Laura. “There tends to be a specific mode of speaking in the tech start-up community, which seeps with confidence. I am confident, but when I don’t know the answer to something, I am not comfortable faking it; I am a little more conservative or balanced in my responses. Starting your own company is not for the faint of heart. The fact that I am in the room indicates that I already have the confidence to be there. Not knowing the answer is not a sign of weakness. Really, we need more space for women in this realm.”

For current students, both in Scout and beyond, Laura recommends being honest with themselves about how they are spending their time – and to try to get more sleep!

“If you can manage your time well, you can start to say ‘yes’ to every project and keep an open mind,” Laura concluded. “If you are studying design, do not turn down opportunities to go beyond your comfort zone and try writing ad copy or examine Facebook and Google Analytics. Especially in the start-up culture, you need to be able to try everything. There are a trillion things that need to get done every second of every day. Don’t have a list of things you don’t do.”

Recent Northeastern alumnae Molly O’Neill and Katie Wilhoit echo the importance of having a diverse and flexible skillset.

Molly, co-founder of Boston-based design studio Juno (read more about Molly and co-founder Brennan Caruthers here), served on Scout for three years, rounding out her experience as one of the Executive Directors of the organization her senior year.

“Before I was a part of Scout, my plan was to join a creative studio after graduation as a junior designer and work my way up the ladder. However, working with the Scout team opened my eyes to opportunities I did not even know were on the table,” Molly said. “Scout not only taught me how to design and collaborate with clients, but it also started to teach me how to manage people, how to build meaningful professional connections, how to foster a community of mentorship, and how to rally a team of creatives to produce professional and polished work. Had I not gotten the chance to be on the managerial side of things before my career as a professional designer even began, I would not have gotten a taste for the excitement that is running a business with people who believe in you and your work as much as you believe in them and their work.”

Similar to Molly, Katie is a designer, maker, and builder who also held a leadership role in Scout, where she developed her ability to work with many different people and learn her own strengths and weaknesses.

“I found my confidence at Scout, and realized that I can use design to make a difference in the world,” she said.

Katie graduated in May with an International Affairs major and a CAMD minor in Interaction Design, a minor she decided to pursue after she did a co-op at the global design company IDEO. There, she rediscovered a passion for connecting with the user and solving problems through design.

“My experience at IDEO challenged me to think about using design as not only a set of tools but also a collection of mindsets, and this led me to start diving into Interaction Design,” she described. “Through my CAMD classes, I felt confident to make things on my own. CAMD helped me learn how to effectively articulate an idea.”

Katie is the Founder of Unsize (read more about Unsize in this article), an app that helps consumers find the correct size when shopping online; the business skills she learned through Scout helped her start it.

“I am so grateful that at Northeastern, I was able to start my own company, in large part due to the incredible experience I was able to gain through my co-ops and from my involvement with Mosaic,” Katie said. “I think Northeastern is just such a unique place to experiment and to learn. You are surrounded by peers and taught to fail fast. If you have an idea or want to build your business skills, join IDEA, Northeastern’s student-led venture accelerator; if you want to build your design skills, join Scout. The opportunities are endless.”

Now, after growing the company from scratch, Katie is excited to announce that its assets were recently acquired by a company in Spain – and she is moving overseas to
work with the new company. As she enters her next adventure, she leaves current students with some advice: “never stop following the questions that spark your curiosity.”

While Katie was a student working on Unsize, alumna Jennifer Heintz, who was part of Scout for two years, was a recent CAMD grad who also had plans to start her own business. She joined Scout as a Studio Designer and then played a large role in designing the brand and website for Scout’s first Interventions conference. Jennifer graduated from CAMD in 2017 with a BFA in Graphic Design and went on to start her own business, Self Aware, a full-service design and technology studio crafting lively and inclusive experiences. The studio produces memorable brand identities, award-winning websites, and interactive experiences for clients whose visions the team can truly get behind. The company is small and dynamic, and strives to create inclusive design without sacrificing play, interactivity, and excitement.

As a business owner, Jennifer has experienced the challenges of being a women designer and leader first-hand – and as a result, has also learned the importance of using discretion when choosing who to work with.

“I’ve experienced gender discrimination in my life before opening a business, but after starting Self Aware, it really became more apparent. We’ve dealt with a couple of clients who have only addressed my business partner Mike during meetings, or have cut me out of communication altogether,” she described. “As we’ve grown, not only have I learned to take up more space, but to weed out those types of clients early on in the sales process. Running a design project is collaborative and can be quite intimate, since our clients are trusting us with their beloved brand. When we have sales calls with potential clients, we’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing us.”

Jennifer and her business partner, Mike, met at Northeastern and started taking on freelance website projects together for friends and teachers. They started to feel like they were onto something — creating interactive and experimental websites — and that they had a unique service to bring to the market.

“When starting a design business, it’s important to remember that craft isn’t everything. Sure, having excellent technical craft in design school will get you the A, but clients aren’t like professors. A lot of clients don’t know good craft from bad, so it’s important you sell yourself,” Jennifer explained. “Developing a sales process, and learning how to be confident in our work and mission, was probably the best thing we ever did for our business.”

That’s when they decided to make the leap into founding Self Aware right after they graduated from Northeastern, moving to Philadelphia and finding its budding arts and creative scene.

“After just a year of starting Self Aware, we launched a site for an award-winning luncheonette in Philly called Middle Child, which got us recognition from Typewolf, Siteinspire, and Awwwards. This site has really been a launching pad for our career, and gave us the confidence to keep pushing forward,” Jennifer added. “We still have good days and bad days, but our business has been growing steadily ever since.”

Like so many Northeastern alumni, Jennifer is grateful for the support and real-world work experience her alma mater offered her during her time as a student.

“I don’t think Self Aware would exist right now if I didn’t go to Northeastern,” Jennifer concluded. “Co-op taught me what I did and didn’t like in a business, and what I loved to work on and absolutely hated working on. Scout taught me how to work on client projects—that it’s not just about the skill or the craft, but it’s about selling your work to your client and, yes, sometimes having to compromise! I left college being absolutely confident that starting Self Aware is what I wanted and needed to be doing right now…and I think that’s rare.”

Continue reading Part 3 here to learn more about the real-world applications that Scout offers, and how Mosaic works to empower Northeastern students.