2022 Innovator Award Winner

Undergraduate Student | Honors

Valerie Robert, Khoury’23

Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and CEO

The Circuit

Valerie Robert Launched Tech Editorial by Gen Z, for Gen Z

by Molly Callahan   |   November 1, 2022

Valerie Robert believes in the power of ventures “by Gen Z for Gen Z.” Cognizant of the increasingly digital age and its intersection with our daily lives, she created The Circuit, a tech-loving student-run editorial and media platform that highlights today’s technology-related trends, developments, effects, and more, helping others stay up to date on the everchanging tech world.

One of the first headlines on The Circuit gives you a clue that this isn’t just any old media platform. “WTF R NFTs” is an explainer about those elusive digital files that tech investors and even celebrities are betting on. But unlike most of the ink that’s been spilled in an attempt to demystify what NFTs actually are, this piece was written by a Gen Zer, for Gen Zers. And that’s right at the heart of The Circuit’s mission.

The Circuit is a student-run media and editorial platform that focuses on technology in all its forms. Valerie Robert, who will complete her degree in computer science and political science at Northeastern University in May 2023, is the creator and driving force behind it.

“The Circuit explores all the ways that technology infiltrates our daily lives,” Robert says. “As Gen Zers, there’s almost no aspect of our lives that isn’t touched by tech in some way.”

She’s right.

Generational cutoff points are typically hard to pin down, but the Pew Research Center defines members of Generation Z as those born between 1997 and 2012, and the ubiquitousness of technology is in part what helps to distinguish this generation.

The generations before Gen Z were slowly introduced to the new technologies of the day. Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) grew up as television expanded dramatically. Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) matured as computers were gaining traction as household devices. And (oft-maligned) Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) came of age as access to the internet exploded.

What’s unique about Gen Z is that all of this has always been part of their lives. The iPhone launched in 2007, when the oldest Gen Zers were 10. “By the time they were in their teens, the primary means by which young Americans connected with the web was through mobile devices, WiFi, and high-bandwidth cellular service,” Pew researchers write. “Social media, constant connectivity, and on-demand entertainment and communication are innovations Millennials adapted to as they came of age. For those born after 1996, these are largely assumed.”

This means that members of Generation Z have a completely different relationship to technology than any of their peers in prior generations—and as such, Robert says, they should have a completely different place to talk about and explore those technologies. That’s where The Circuit comes in.

“When you look at traditional media—and I’m an avid reader of The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Economist, and others—those platforms have amazing writers, but it’s not content that’s relatable,” Robert says. “They’re not talking about what’s happening in my life.”

The Circuit is somewhat decentralized: Anyone with a good idea can write about it for the platform.

“Let’s say you love bees,” Robert says. “You could do a piece on bees and technology, all the innovations in that space and how they intersect.”

Robert was recognized with a 2022 Innovator Award, a competition hosted by Northeastern University’s Women Who Empower that drew more than 100 applicants this year.

Robert says she had the idea for The Circuit back in high school, but a program by the Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship (WISE) at Northeastern, called WeBuild, gave her the push to make it a reality.

“The Circuit explores all the ways that technology infiltrates our daily lives. As Gen Zers, there’s almost no aspect of our lives that isn’t touched by tech in some way.”

—Valerie Robert, Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and CEO, The Circuit

“The Circuit explores all the ways that technology infiltrates our daily lives. As Gen Zers, there’s almost no aspect of our lives that isn’t touched by tech in some way.”

—Valerie Robert, Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and CEO, The Circuit

The semester-long program gives budding entrepreneurs the opportunity to build out their ideas, and Robert used the time to create a roadmap for her media platform.

“I hammered out the mission, the vision, the team structure, what the site would look like—all of it,” she says.

Stacy Pablo, a co-director at WISE, says that creating the “breathing room” for women entrepreneurs is critical.

“With this space, women often feel more confident to pursue their business ideas,” Pablo says. “This breathing room is also important because it allows for our members to build at their own pace without being rushed. Through WISE, we strive to ensure that all women graduate from our programs confident and comfortable with entrepreneurship—and know that they belong in entrepreneurship.”

Then, Robert entered the Husky Startup Challenge, another Northeastern program designed to provide early-stage startups with knowledge, resources, and mentorship. An affiliated competition allows student-founders to win funding for their projects, too. Robert took third place in 2021. With the grant money, she turned to yet another Northeastern organization, Scout, which is a student-led design studio. She hired a team to help redesign and rebuild her website from the ground up. This fall, she’s working with the Intellectual Property Law Clinic, run out of Northeastern’s School of Law, to trademark her designs.

Now, Robert co-directs WISE with Pablo, and The Circuit has a team of more than 20 people. Robert is thinking hard about what the next chapters for her, and for The Circuit, look like.

“How do I grow The Circuit into its adult stage?” she wonders aloud. She could spin it off into its own startup, or work with other colleges to install The Circuit at their campuses, too. “At the end of the day, it’s a community first, and I’m so proud to have created this community for myself and my peers.”