Monday Nov 19, 2012 by Eric Peckham - Founding Partner, Tufts Venture Fund
Tufts University has supposedly been fairly quiet on the startup scene - neighbored by Harvard and MIT, innovations and ventures coming from Walnut Hill in Somerville don’t tend to make the front pages. No recent undergrads have dropped out and founded multi-billion dollar tech companies, VCs don’t scour campus to eye the projects of CS students, and we don’t have entire buildings dedicated to entrepreneurial workspace (yet). But a lot of notable entrepreneurs have come out of this university, and its entrepreneurial culture goes far back.
Tufts does in fact have a healthy history of major startup successes. It was a 1988 graduate, Pierre Omidyar, who brought on the e-commerce revolution with the creation of eBay at age 28 and who remains a major investor in innovative social enterprises worldwide. SoBe, the sugary drink that fills convenience store fridges in even the smallest of towns, was founded by John Bello`68, after he transformed the NFL's merchandising arm from a mere $30mil endeavor to the multi-billion dollar behemoth it is today.
Roy Raymond, the one Jumbo mentioned in The Social Network, reimagined the shopping experience for lingerie with Victoria’s Secret, while Dov Charney got his start running a t-shirt business out of his dorm room before leaving to grow it into the American Apparel empire. If those examples sound too distant, consider another fashion company held sacred by hipsters all over - Warby Parker, whose founder Neil Blumenthal `02 saw an opportunity in the price-inflated glasses market, and launched the startup following his post-graduation job helping low-income women sell glasses at nonprofit VisionSpring.
The Ethos-Water brand you see every day in Starbucks is the result of one student’s answer to a common question of students at Tufts: “how can I do well by doing good?” Ethos’ co-founder, Jonathan Greenblatt `92 set out to bring investments in drinkable water systems to the Third World by marketing a premium water brand in the First World, never guessing that he’d end up selling the venture to a Fortune 500 multinational and go on to run the White House Office of Social Innovation.
On the Boston tech scene, Art Papas `97 is celebrating a successful June exit for his HR software firm Bullhorn, Inc. and fellow General Catalyst-backed Tufts grad Brian Shin is leading video analytics company Visible Measures to further growth after a Series E round over the summer. Moreover, Boston-based social media powerhouse Communispace - an Inc. 500 "Fastest Growing Private Companies" member - owes its expanding market share to co-founder Diane Hessan, a Class of `75 economics major.
Tufts University has a strong network of risk-taking alumni who jumped at the chance to build something big and innovative, and there are many recent graduates and current students who are following in their path. I would argue that Tufts is a bit of a silent giant, with top notch graduate and undergraduate programs and a go-getter spirit that leads many Jumbos to a path of entrepreneurship.