Babson College: Growing Entrepreneurship with Exposure to Real World Entrepreneurs and a Learn-by-Doing Philosophy

A few weeks back I attended the Babson Summer Venture Program Showcase where 16 student teams (consisting of graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurs from Babson, Olin College of Engineering, and Wellesley College) who participated in a 10-week accelerator program during the summer months finally had their opportunity to pitch and impress the masses. 

They, along with Babson as a whole, caught my attention. 

Now, it’s no secret that Babson is a great business school. Specifically, in and around our tech and startup ecosystem here in Boston there are several entrepreneurs who have come through Babson...here are just a few of them: 

     Michael SalgueroCustomMade Ventures

     Matt LauzonDunwello & Gemvara

     Jason Jacobs - RunKeeper

     Evan Lodge - HigherMe

     Romney Evans and Jessica Murphy - True Fit

     Matt Bellows - Yesware

     Morgan Newman, Jeff Avallon & John GoschaIdeaPaint (which is on the walls of so many Boston offices) 

Also, many of Boston’s thriving companies are funded by investors and venture capitalists who also went through Babson: 

     Bob Davis - Highland Capital Partners

     Tim MarkenBreakaway Innovation Group (and currently Adjunct Professor at Babson)

     Larry Begley - .406 Ventures  

Curious as I am, I headed back to campus a few weeks later to sit down with some of the core team driving entrepreneurship at Babson including Janet Strimaitis, Executive Director of the Arthur M. Blank Center For Entrepreneurship, “the nerve center for entrepreneurial activity at Babson,” as she describes it. 

Arthur Blank (class of ’63) is the co-founder of Home Depot and the owner of the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL. The center was dedicated to Blank in 1998, twenty years after Babson formally launched entrepreneurship as a discrete academic discipline. 

I met with the team at the Blank Center to get a better feel for the resources available at Babson and, more importantly, to be able to inform aspiring entrepreneurs of such resources. It’s quite the operation over there, but I’ll do my best to break in down for you.
 

Let’s start with the school’s overall philosophy and view of entrepreneurship. 

To start our meeting Strimaitis said to me, “we believe there are many pathways to entrepreneurship.” This statement is the simplest way to understand Babson’s methodology and the foundation for which they build their curricular program. 

An entrepreneur can be anyone who started a technology company from an idea to a thriving business, to someone who purchased a franchise, or someone who took over a family business. Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, across all industries and with varying level of financial success. However it may play out for a future Babson graduate (15% of Babson graduates go on to start or continue a business immediately after graduation) the institution prepares them through a “Learn By Doing” approach. 

Starting on day one at college, students are entered into Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME), a required course for all first-year undergraduates. FME groups students into teams where they spend the first semester conceptualizing and validating a business. It then carries over into the second semester where they actually launch and run the business (up to $3,000 in seed funding is provided by the school). At the end of the year all profits are donated to student team’s charity of choice. To date, nearly $500,000 has been donated to various charities. (Recent success to the tune of $17,000) 

I love this direct approach to entrepreneurship and business in general. It allows students to find out immediately if this is a path they’re passionate about. From there, Babson offers up over 80 different entrepreneurship courses taught by the largest dedicated entrepreneurial faculty in the world. 

This faculty currently stands around 50, but they are recruiting three more full-timers. Every faculty member has real world business experience and the vast majority, I’m told, has entrepreneurship experience. Of these 50, about two-thirds are adjunct and several teach as little as one course per year. The reasoning behind this is specialty courses. The school wants experts with hand-on experience teaching these courses. 
 

THE ARTHUR M. BLANK CENTER FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP 

The 6,000 square-foot facility provides a home for members of several co-curricular programs to enhance the overall learning experience for students who thrive to become successful entrepreneurs. The center focuses on expanding the practice of Entrepreneurship of All Kinds™ through innovative co-curricular programs and global collaborative research initiatives that inspire and inform Entrepreneurial Thought and Action®.

                

Open to all Babson students The Blank Center is a platform for students looking to expand their entrepreneurial curiosity with other like-minded students. It also houses a key component to entrepreneurial growth and the launching of businesses, the Butler Venture Accelerator.
 

THE JOHN E. AND ALICE L. BUTLER VENTURE ACCELERATOR 

The John E. and Alice L. Butler Venture Accelerator Program is a key resource for any student to find an idea to those ready to launch a business. There is an application process into the program, but it is completely voluntary and is not course work. Last year over 400 students took advantage of the program. 

Along with the space provided through the Blank Center it offers up workshops, advisors and mentoring. Between September and May they hold more than 60 workshops and have brought in guest speakers from the likes of HubSpot and Reebok. 

The program and the mentorship that comes with it, takes a three-tiered approach:

     Explore: Identifying who you are; Developing feasibility

     Pursue: Building a team, business model and plan

     Launch & Grow: MVP, Pitch & Plan for funding  

This  “Act. Learn. Build.” approach emphasizes Babson’s “Learn-By-Doing” philosophy.


 

B.E.T.A. CHALLENGE 

The Blank Center’s B.E.T.A. (Babson Entrepreneurial Thought and Action®) Challenge recognizes major milestones Babson businesses have achieved by taking action. 

Submissions for the challenge are open and are judged and rated by Babson alumni online. This initial round yields six semi-finalists in three different segments (graduate, undergraduate and alumni) who attend a Venture Expo in April with “incognito” judges roaming and evaluating. From here it is then narrowed to three finalists who go on to give a 20-minute pitch and Q&A. 

Winners of the B.E.T.A. Challenge each (each segment has its own winner) win a grand prize of $20,000 in cash plus “services in kind” donations from corporate sponsors respectively. In addition, $2,500 is awarded to the two other finalist ventures in each of the three competitions. Applicants compete for prizes by demonstrating success in achieving major milestones by taking action. 

One of the in-kind sponsors is MassChallenge, with whom Babson has formed a strong partnership over the past several years. They work cross-functionally on different initiatives, ensuring those involved in both communities are aware of the resources available to them.

                
 

SUMMER VENTURE PROGRAM 

The Summer Venture Program is a 10-week intensive experience designed to accelerate the development of student entrepreneurial ventures. 

The program supports the most promising graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurs from Babson, Olin College of Engineering, and Wellesley College. Teams receive housing, work space, advisors, a speaker series, and other resources to help them and their businesses develop throughout the 10 weeks. 

As a touched upon earlier, it culminates in a showcase (formally known as Venture Showcase) to professional investors and the local community.
 



Antonette Ho heads up the program. I asked for her thoughts and experiences on the program:

"The Summer Venture program is a unique opportunity for student entrepreneurs to focus on their ventures in a collaborative environment. During the ten weeks of the program, entrepreneurs not only have access to housing, workspace, and advising, but they become a community – a community where entrepreneurs work together and push each other to move their ventures forward. SVP participants are fortunate to get access to experienced advisors to help them accelerate their businesses. We’ve also been privileged to have many speakers and special guests visit the program over the last six years, many of them SVP alumni. Although the program is only ten weeks, the lessons learned and connections made in SVP go beyond the summer."


ROCKET PITCH 

Yet another example of Learn-by-doing is the Rocket Pitch, an annual event where Babson (students and alumni), Olin Engineering and Wellesley College student entrepreneurs are invited to pitch their business ideas to a large audience of students, faculty, entrepreneurs, investors, and service providers. 

One of the most important aspects in getting a business off the ground is building a strong deck and nailing a pitch. Being able to take steps to perfecting this process while at Babson is an advantage for students and lends to the stat of 15% of students going on to start a company. 

The 15th annual Rocket Pitch is scheduled for Thursday, November 6, 2014. 

Below you can hear from Jon Feinman, Founder & Executive Director of InnerCity Weightlifting, on his experience with Rocket Pitch. Many in our ecosystem are familiar with the organization through TUGG (another organization run by Babson Alum – David Brown) and the Tech Gives Back Initiative, among others. 

“I think the most helpful part was, just doing it…”



 

These programs really just scratch the surface as to what Babson is doing for entrepreneurship. 

A few other key initiatives I want to recognize are Diana Project, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and Successful Transgenerational Entrepreneurship Practices (STEP) Project – all fall under Applied Research Projects. 

I’d like to also highlight The Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL), which educates, inspires, and empowers women entrepreneurial leaders to reach their full potential to create economic and social value for themselves, their organizations, and society. 

Successful Babson alum aren’t just here in Boston of course. Recognizing and wanting to take full advantage of this, Babson opened a satellite graduate campus in San Francisco five years ago. However, for the first time they have opened it up to undergraduates. This fall there will be 20-25 students studying at the SF campus and gaining insight into operating out of Silicon Valley. While we certainly want our entrepreneurs to stay put in Boston, you can’t fault the institution for taking full advantage of the Babson ecosystem. 

In honor of the “learn-by-doing” philosophy let’s learn by hearing straight from those who have done… 

I reached out to a couple alum to share their experiences with Babson to collaborate and put into context the amazing resources Babson provides.
 

Mike Salguero -CEO, Co-Founder, CustomMade Ventures

“When my cofounder and I purchased CustomMade.com from a gentleman who owned it since the mid 90's, Babson was there every step of the way. I had numerous conversations with the Blank Center about negotiation, team building, fundraising, SEO and online marketing, and business strategy.  The team gave their time selflessly and proactively.”

 

Jason Jacobs – Founder & CEO, RunKeeper: 

"I had planned to jump into entrepreneurship for a long time, and my 2 years at Babson was a perfect test bed to absorb as much knowledge as I could about the process and surround myself with a ton of like-minded people and professors with great expertise in this area. The only way to truly learn is by doing, but Babson enabled me to jump in with a great foundation and a running start."

While everyone reading this may not be in the market for undergrad or considering continuing education I hope this still offers educational value. The learn-by-doing approach is something I’ve always believed in and it’s certainly practiced in some businesses, but if more people are to take this approach the more talent we’ll continue to produce among our community. 

For Babson in particular, if anyone (undergrad or grad) is considering a life of entrepreneurship I highly suggest taking a hard look at Babson College (keep tabs on Twitter @BabsonEship).  As with any business, partnership or hire you explore, you always do your due diligence, so be sure to include Babson in your educational exploration process.

                 

Josh Boyle is Director of Community & Marketing, VentureFizz.  You can follow him on Twitter @jb_sid
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