Entrepreneurship Week highlights student creativity, new career paths for graduates
Sewanee’s first-ever Entrepreneurship Week, sponsored by the Babson Center for Global Commerce, turned the spotlight on the business of creating new businesses, bringing together students, business-oriented alumni and friends of the Babson Center, and community members to share ideas and experiences on one of the most exciting emerging career paths for liberal arts graduates.
Highlights included the Sewanee 2012 Entrepreneurial Challenge business plan competition, the 2012 Humphreys Entrepreneur in Residence lecture by Brian Reynolds (C’90), daily presentations by successful entrepreneurs on topics from strategic marketing to the protection intellectual property by startup businesses, and a high school business plan competition mentored by Sewanee students.
Click here to view photos of Entrepreneurship Week events.
Five teams of University students competed in the inaugural Sewanee Entrepreneurial Challenge where they pitched business proposals to a panel of judges drawn from the worlds of entrepreneurship and business finance.
The competition required each team to develop an idea for new and disruptive business venture; create a business plan for the venture that included a description of the proposed venture, market research, and how the venture would be organized, and to prepare and present to a panel of judges a short investment pitch. The teams were also required to submit financial data in support of their proposed business plans.
Thomas Hall (C '14) of Franklin, TN, and Robert Goeller (C '14) of Rowayton, CT, won first place with a plan to sell long-term bonds to college alumni and use the proceeds to make loans to current students at better-than-market rates. They argued that the business could cut the cost of higher education financing for students while giving investors access to a relatively safe investment opportunity.
For their winning proposal, Hall and Goeller won $300 and the option to seek a grant of up to $5,000 should they choose to launch their proposed venture. The two were also cited for producing the best social entrepreneurship proposal, an award that came with a $150 prize. The winning team’s advisor was Rivers Powers (C ’07), Director of Corporate Affairs at Advon Healthcare and managing director of a SEED (early stage) investment program.
Hal Smith of Lexington, VA; Penn Jenks of Shoreham, VT; and Rory Devine of Arlington, VA; took second place and a $200 prize for their proposal to create a microbrewery based in East Tennessee--designed to play off the region’s longtime association with moonshine whiskey. The second-place team was advised by Charlie Brock (C ’87), the CEO of CoLab, managing director of Four Bridges Capital Advisers, and founder of a Chattanooga angel fund investment group.
Third place went to HuaJun (Steven) Liu (C ’14) for a proposal to design and sell a new form of tablet computer for students with two side-by-side screens. The tablet would integrate textbooks, student notes, and other educational resources. Jim Szyperski, parent of a Sewanee graduate and managing director of Cherokee Investment Partners, served as Liu’s adviser.
Brian Reynolds graduated from Sewanee in 1990 as double major in philosophy and history. After graduate study in philosophy, he joined a gaming studio, where he designed several best-selling video games and went on to become a video-game entrepreneur.
When he returned to Sewanee as the 2012 Humphreys Entrepreneur in Residence, he told the audience at his public lecture that his Sewanee years had made a significant impact on his career because, as a liberal arts student, he learned how to write, think, and argue.
Without the liberal arts, he said, “I might have been a game engineer, but I wouldn’t be a game designer.”
Reynolds sold his first video game while still in high school. He has played a major role in starting three game-design firms. He and his associates sold both of their first two ventures, Firaxis and Big Huge Games. Currently, Reynolds is the chief game designer for Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA), the social media gaming company.
The games he works on now are social, involving many interactions among players. The attraction of the these types of games is social, not educational, though players may learn from playing the game. By studying the interactions and choices that players make, he said, game developers gain new and unexpected insights into human behavior.
Among Reynolds’ most successful games is FrontierVille, a history-based game in which participants attempt to create farms from wilderness territory.
As an entrepreneur in a creative field, he said, he had learned that a good idea is the most important element for a “breakout” success rather than having the best execution.
Reynolds cautioned his audience that entrepreneurs need to prepare themselves for a sense of loss when they sell their companies to others: “When you sell your company, it’s gone,” he said.
The Humphreys Entrepreneur in Residence program is supported by a generous gift from David and Debra Humphreys. Brian Reynolds’ lecture was presented in collaboration with the University’s Department of Philosophy.
Throughout the week, successful entrepreneurs offered presentations on specific issues facing would-be entrepreneurs. The presenters were:
- Cliff Oxford, who founded STI Knowledge, a pioneering developer of knowledge-based systems for Fortune 1000 companies, and the founder of Atlanta's Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. Oxford discussed “The Nine Basic Instincts of Entrepreneurial Success.”
- Dr. Yasmeen Mohiuddin, Ralph Owen Distinguished Professor of Economics and the founder of Sewanee's groundbreaking Social Entrepreneurship Education program (SEED). Mohiuddin discussed the principles of social entrepreneurship and was joined by Ben Almassi (C’14), who focused on Nashville’s Magdalene House program for women recovering from abuse, prostitution, homelessness, and addiction. The program operates a social enterprise called Thistle Farms.
- Dr. Dirk Brown, CEO of digital media technology company Pandoodle and director of the Faber Entrepreneurship Center at the University of South Carolina. Brown explained the basic concepts of intellectual property and the importance of intellectual property strategies for new ventures.
- Ashley Logsdon (C'07), who developed a business plan for a startup company while still a Sewanee student and launched the venture, Dolma Jewelry, Inc., immediately after graduation. Logsdon has just completed the sale of Dolma Jewelry. Her presentation on marketing was titled “Be the Brightest Crayon in the Box: Understanding the Necessity of Product Differentiation and Strategic Marketing.”
- Arden Grady (C'09), who until recently managed entrepreneurship programs for the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and is now developing a finance startup, Grady spoke on "Lean Startup Principles: How to Build and Launch a Successful Product."
Students at St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School, an Episcopal day and boarding school near the Sewanee campus, held a high school entrepreneurial challenge with the support of the Babson Center. University students mentored the teams and and local community advisors with business experience served as advisors.
Sophomores Eva Miller and Diana Rinck won with their proposal to link parents in college towns with bilingual babysitters who could help their children develop second-language skills. The team received a $150 cash prize for its winning presentation. Miller and Rinck were mentored by Elizabeth Verity (C ’13).
Trey Burdick (C ’15) was the project leader for the SAS Entrepreneurial Challenge. The project was supported by an internship grant from Sewanee's Canale Internship Fund for Community Service and Leadership and was mentored by the Babson Center.