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    Somalia school’s story is more relevant than ever

    Chris Morris for The Boston Globe
    Jonathan Starr

    When Jonathan Starr got started on his new book, “It Takes a School,” he didn’t expect it to be quite so politically charged.

    But it is, in large part due to the timing of the book’s release this week. It details the former finance professional’s experience launching a high school in Somalia — a nation named by President Trump in an executive order temporarily banning travel from seven countries to the United States.

    Starr’s career took a hard right turn in 2009, in the aftermath of the financial crisis. That’s when he shuttered his Cambridge hedge fund, Flagg Street Capital , and launched the Abaarso School in Somaliland. (Starr is also a former Fidelity Investments employee.)


    Since the school was founded, it has placed dozens of students from the war-torn region in colleges and boarding schools in the United States, including Harvard University. Now, Starr (right) is worried that Trump’s executive order — currently on hold as it works its way through the courts — could threaten the school’s ability to send students to the United States this year, depending on how long the ban is in place and whether colleges bar applicants from the seven affected countries.

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    Trump has said that his order is meant to keep potential terrorists out of the country, but Starr says his students already were being closely vetted. A chapter of his book details the tight scrutiny students faced as they attempted to enter the county in 2011.

    “It’s not like Somalians are just being handed visas at the embassies,” he says. “They’re already being looked at very suspiciously.”

    Starr, who lives in Westborough, says the school is considering a “plan B” for students who had hoped to come to the United States, which could mean sending them to universities in other countries.

    At least all the news makes for a timely book release. Yes, Starr says, “It’s unfortunately true.” — ADAM VACCARO

    Versace calls investment in AI a no-brainer


    Neurala chief executive Max Versace successfully signed up a string of investors for his startup’s $14 million funding round. But there was one thing missing from the lineup: a local investor, someone from the area willing to bet on Boston-based Neurala’s artificial intelligence technology.

    But just as the investment round was closing, Versace found his hometown backer.

    About three weeks ago, Versace was introduced to Chris Pallotta of Raptor Group, a Boston investment firm, by Andy Palmer, the chief executive of the Cambridge startup Tamr.

    Pallotta works at Raptor with his father, Jim Pallotta, who oversees Raptor and is the president and co-owner of the A.S. Roma soccer team.

    Chris Pallotta says he was impressed with Neurala’s technology and its potential to help drones and autonomous vehicles navigate potential hazards. So he moved quickly, and dialed up several of his contacts in the city to learn more about the startup.


    “We were able to move a lot faster than typically a venture fund would be able to do,” Pallotta says.

    The two sides signed the paperwork last week, and the deal was done.

    They declined to disclose how much Raptor is contributing to the $14 million funding round, which is being led by Pelion Venture Partners of Utah.

    Versace says that Boston’s a great place to nurture an AI startup, but he believes investors here need to have some skin in the game for the city to stay competitive.

    “We [originally] didn’t have any local investors, which I think was a big minus,” Versace says.

    “It was almost making me pause and wonder whether Boston is thinking seriously to keep up with the rest of the world.”

    Did the deal come at a cost?

    Until last week, Versace was a big fan of the Inter Milan soccer team. Versace discussed the deal with Pallotta at Raptor’s Boston office, with big cutouts of Roma players staring at them.

    Now, Versace says, he roots for Rome. — JON CHESTO

    Foreman’s business plan is shaping up

    About three years ago, George Foreman III, son of the boxing legend George Foreman, opened a high-end gym in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood. Called The Club By George Foreman III, it was later re-christened with a snappier name: EverybodyFights.

    Now the name is being tweaked again.

    It’s becoming EverybodyFights Seaport, a moniker that’s meant to distinguish it from EverybodyFights FiDi, a second location opening this month at One Federal Street in Boston’s Financial District, and EverybodyFights Midtown, a New York City outpost debuting this summer on Madison Avenue at 41st Street.

    That’s not all. Foreman eventually wants to open at least two more gyms and begin offering franchise opportunities.

    “A chain was always the goal, and franchising was always the goal,” says Foreman, whose expansion is funded by $3 million from the Boston branding and venture capital firm Breakaway.

    Even though he’s now spending part of each week in Manhattan as he launches the Midtown gym, Foreman says he’ll still be a regular presence in Boston.

    “There are still the same amount of hours in the day — it’s just where I put them,” he jokes. “But no matter what, I’ll always teach [fitness classes] in Boston at least twice a week.”

    Foreman also plans to continue partnering with local nonprofits, like the Boys & Girls Clubs network, whose kids are allowed to use his gym free on Sundays.

    And this Saturday he’ll host “Fight United,” a two-hour circuit training event to raise money for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley’s Youth Venture program, which pairs high schoolers with mentors who help them pitch business ideas.

    As Foreman puts it:

    “Some positive good-natured competition!” — SACHA PFEIFFER

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