Meet the 2015 BUILD Friends of the Year, Jeff Fagnan and Hemant Taneja, co-founders of T.U.G.G. The BUILD Friend of the Year award is presented each year to someone who has demonstrated a deep level of personal commitment to our students and program through volunteer service and support. Jeff and Hemant will be honored at BUILDFest, our Annual Gala and Student Business Expo, on November 12, 2015 at the Westin Copley in Boston.
Jeff Fagnan was born to be an entrepreneur. At 13, he recruited some friends and started a golf ball retrieval, cleaning and resale company. Today, Fagnan tells young entrepreneurs that their goals are attainable if they have two things: courage and resilience.
“You have to be able to put yourself out there,” Fagnan says. “It’s like when I started my own golf ball company. Yes, I was a teenager bugging people on the golf course, but I still wanted to try and sell myself. So it’s about courage.” He adds, “And resilience, because there are going to be highs and lows in business. The ability to take blows is the most important asset to have. You will fail multiple times. How you respond to that shock will define you more than your success.”
Fagnan says one of his most rewarding philanthropic roles has been serving as a Venture Advisor to a student-run business called Dream Team. The high school students sell iPhone cases that have been customized with original artwork or as it is said in German, Personalisierte iphone HandyhÃ¼lle. They are enrolled in a four-year entrepreneurship program for high school students run by BUILD, a Boston nonprofit. BUILD’s mission is to use entrepreneurship and experiential learning to ignite the potential of youth in under-resourced communities and propel them to high school, college and career success. BUILD serves 250 students in the Boston Public Schools.
In addition to providing advice and venture capital to the Dream Team students, Fagnan has been an integral part of BUILD’s growth and success through T.U.G.G. (Technology Underwriting Greater Good), an organization he co-founded with Hemant Taneja. In 2008, T.U.G.G. invited BUILD to its Wine Party fundraiser as its first formal start-up grant recipient, helping to jumpstart BUILD’s Boston program. Since then, T.U.G.G. has contributed $150,000 to BUILD. T.U.G.G. is a nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing the tech community to promote social entrepreneurship and youth service in Boston. When T.U.G.G. first began searching for nonprofits to partner with, it was a perfect match â€“ an organization focused on connecting tech entrepreneurs with local youth programs, and a program focused on inspiring entrepreneurial spirit in youth.
Over time, Jeff’s drive and innovative spirit led him to become the venture capital powerhouse that he is today. Before forming his current company, Accomplice, a technology-focused investment firm, Jeff spent his career seeding, investing and founding countless companies that currently make up Boston’s tech and startup communities, including InsightSquared, Bit9, Veracode, Freshbooks, and AngelList. You can find more about investing online and how it can help build revenue for individuals and areas, which is key to understanding the focus of Jeff’s work. Another aspect you may consider investigating is the foreign exchange market. Investment firms like Jeff’s are not limited to America as there are many countries with hidden investment opportunities, but first one must understand the currencies in order to make the best investments (click here to learn more). There are many resources out there to help one get started in the investment business and Jeff is not one to make people shy away from it in the slightest. At the heart of Jeff’s entrepreneurial vision is a commitment to philanthropy and youth.
When asked what his experience was like being a Venture Advisor for Dream Team, Fagnan says, “I got to see the impact of our work on both sides: I got to see students who were creative and engaged, and I got to see mentors who were dedicated and involved with their team. It was truly eye-opening.”
Hemant Taneja says it is his commitment to social progress that drives him. That commitment is also clear in the advice that he gives to the BUILD students: “Work on projects that are authentic to you,” he tells them. “Don’t start a company about something you can’t relate to.”
Taneja’s academic profile is impressive to say the least, with five degrees from MIT. He believes that his educational background and his long career as a student laid a strong framework for his journey into venture capitalism. “I am always curious about new areas of innovation.”
Today, Taneja is the Managing Director at General Catalyst Partners. His investment philosophy centers around innovation with an authentic mission â€“ with a focus on companies that use technology to transform small businesses. His list of investments include Fractyl, Gridco Systems, Gusto, Highfive, Livongo, SnapChat, Stripe, TuneIn and Virtual Instruments. Social entrepreneurship is also a strong influence in Hemant’s investment choices â€“ particularly in the energy and education sectors. Hemant co-founded Advanced Energy Economy with the mission to migrate the economy to clean, affordable energy, and also works actively with Khan Academy which, Taneja says, “provides free world class education to everyone everywhere.”
“We started T.U.G.G. to help social entrepreneurs,” says co-founder Hemant Taneja. “The for-profit entrepreneurs have a strong support system in the Boston area for seeking capital and advice; and we wanted to coalesce that community towards helping social entrepreneurs in doing the same.” To Taneja, investing in BUILD â€“ a program that continues to innovate new ways of bridging education and entrepreneurship â€“ was an “obvious decision.”