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Maria Vasco poses for a photo. (Colleen Locke/UMass Boston)
January 28, 2019

UMass Boston student receives first-ever entrepreneur scholarship


  • Boston
Winner receives $5,000 award and two years of mentoring

When Maria Vasco came to UMass Boston two years ago, she admits she hadn’t given much thought to climate change or sustainability. That all changed her second semester when the then political science major took Assistant Professor of Ecological Economics Georgia Mavrommati’s class to fulfill a natural science requirement.

She immediately switched her major to environmental studies and sustainability in the School for the Environment, and became passionate about changing plastic packaging in the beauty industry. Now the Honors College junior is on her way toward setting up her own zero-waste store thanks to a new scholarship.

Vasco is the first-ever recipient of UMass Boston’s inaugural Entrepreneur Scholarship. In addition to receiving $5,000, she is being mentored by the scholarship’s founder, Dan Phillips, for the next two years. Phillips, the founding director of UMass Boston’s Entrepreneurship Center and an advisor in the Venture Development Center, recently sold his 6-year-old company, CloudHealth Technologies, to VMware for $500 million.

“That’s exactly what I needed – someone with experience to give me advice – help me clear my thoughts and help me develop a timeline of what I should do now and what I should do later,” Vasco said.

Phillips has already given Vasco her first assignment as she seeks out an internship.

“I told him I have these specific values that I want to find in a company or startup and he said, ‘OK, so we’re going to target those, so start looking for what companies you are interested in and once you find those, create a list from top to bottom of the ones you are most interested in.’”

Vasco says the $5,000 award is just as critical to her growth as a budding entrepreneur

“It’s going to help me pay for my next semester, and that actually gives me a lot more free time to focus on school and on my business interests. Before, I worked to help pay for my tuition, and now with this scholarship, that takes a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Vasco said.

Vasco got interested in the idea of opening a store with compostable products in plastic-free packaging when touring Europe this past summer with friends. The Colombian native would like to have a store in East Boston, where she’s lived since she was four. Her working title: EcoVida

“I want it to be more of a norm for people to care about the environment in their consumption,” Vasco said

The fourteen other students who applied for the inaugural Entrepreneur Scholarship will also receive mentoring to help them land an internship and ultimately, their first job.

Applications are now being accepted for the next Entrepreneurship Scholarship opportunity. The Entrepreneur Scholarship is open to juniors and seniors with a minimum of a 2.75 GPA who have a desire to work for a venture capital backed startup, and potentially start their own company someday. The application deadline is February 15, 2019. There will be an info session on February 6 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Venture Development Center, located on the third floor of Wheatley Hall.