Twice during Sean Mahoney’s (’09) undergraduate career nobody would have blamed him for walking away from WPI. The first was when thieves broke into his car trunk and stole everything he owned, including his computer. The second came at the end of his junior year, when he ran out of money to pay for college.
The theft in 2003 could have forced him to quit—he couldn’t do his coursework without a computer. But Janet Begin Richardson (then vice president of campus life) and Philip Clay (then dean of students and currently vice president for student affairs) organized an effort to buy him a new one. It was only when he couldn’t pay his tuition in 2005 that Mahoney left WPI—but not permanently. The WPI Plan encourages students to chart their own paths and he took that to heart. He formulated a plan to finish his degree, securing a job as a release manager at a Framingham telecom company. Two years later while leading a global team of 20, he used vacation time to attend classes at WPI. After earning a BS in electrical and computer engineering, he then ambitiously completed 13 graduate courses in a single year. By that time he was director of a web development certificate program at Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts. He earned an MS in information technology management at WPI while working full-time 40 miles away.
“I would leave class at BU at 4:29 on the dot, rush west on the [Mass] Pike, grab something to eat at the Campus Center, and head to class,” Mahoney remembers. “I’d schedule conference calls for my drive and fit homework in during lunch and after classes.” Somewhere in there he married his girlfriend, Lynn, and started the company he leads today, AndPlus, in Southborough, Mass., which focuses on complex web and mobile applications and IoT software development.
Due to his efforts, graduate placement rates at the program Mahoney led at BU rose from 10 percent to 100 percent. To date, he has also invested in or co-founded eight early-stage ventures, half of which are generating revenue. Others will be launching products created by his team at AndPlus. Mahoney says WPI’s project-based learning, emphasis on collaboration, and the seven-week terms gave him the skills to manage his hectic schedule, instilled in him a deep respect for people and process, and fueled his entrepreneurial instincts. Each term brought a new team to organize and a new problem to solve, giving him plenty of practice for his own ventures.
“It’s fun to look back at my transformation while at WPI,” he says. “I don’t think that would have happened at another school. I enjoy a team-based approach—it’s core to how we write the software we do at AndPlus”
Mahoney maintains strong ties with WPI as a member of the Foisie Business School’s Tech Advisors Network, nurturing new and prospective ventures launched by members of the WPI community. His ongoing work with WPI and his memory of the university’s generosity when his computer was stolen, inspired him to donate $25,000 to the Foisie Innovation Studio in support of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and another $5,000 to the WPI Accelerator Fund, which provides funds to early stage business ventures and the commercialization of ideas.
“That experience has always stayed with me,” Mahoney says of the effort by Clay and Richardson. “I don’t know what I did to deserve that kind of support, but sometimes we have to stop and ask ourselves, ‘What we can do for people?’ and do it just because we should.”