Entrepreneurs find popularity
Victor Chen ’12 (left) and Lauren Harris ’12 serve as the president and vice president of the Entrepreneurial Alliance, respectively. The group is dedicated to helping students learn the intricacies of starting their own businesses.
With the current job market not offering any promises for students with graduation on the horizon, some are taking matters into their own hands. Today, small businesses are becoming increasingly popular as people tap into their entrepreneurial spirit and create businesses of their own.
This trend has not been lost on students at the College. The Entrepreneurial Alliance, a Career Center initiative now in its second year, encourages students to create business plans of their own and fosters these ideas into legitimate proposals that students often present at the end of the year in the club’s business competition.
Victor Chen ’12 joined the club last year, functioning as the group’s president and only member. Realizing that more people were necessary to make the Entrepreneurial Alliance a success, Chen began recruiting more members through the Club Expo and word of mouth.
Currently joining Chen in running the Entrepreneurial Alliance are vice president Lauren Harris ’12, chair of the leadership committee Dennis Gallagher ’12 and additional underclassmen board members. “Once we had a board, our first main goal was getting more members,” Harris said. The board then created a website, organized an e-mail list and set forth on an aggressive advertising campaign. They put out table tents and flyers and reached out to students via tabling in Pulver Pavilion and general announcements.
“This has been the most exciting part,” Chen said. “We started with no specific roles and no direction, but we were able to draft our own roles, our own committees, our own board.”
Chen feels that the Entrepreneurial Alliance is a group that any student at the College could become a part of. “Entrepreneurship is representative of a liberal arts education; students from any discipline can become entrepreneurs,” he said. It involves many different aspects, including marketing and business law, for starters. Before the group was created, students on the Hill were not able to explore the possibility of launching a business of their own.
“Entrepreneurship has become very popular, especially after 2008. Entrepreneurs are the ones making jobs, and if you become a successful entrepreneur you don’t have to find a job—and you get to provide jobs to others,” Chen said.
The Entrepreneurial Alliance is best known for its year-end business competition, a contest that was first launched last spring. This year, the competition will be held on April 19; entrants will present a detailed business plan to the panel of judges, including trustees and faculty. There are two $10,000-$15,000 grand prize winners, one in entrepreneurship and one in social entrepreneurship.
Last year’s winners were the creators of My Fresh Maine, who used their winnings to launch the business.
And it was the business competition that led the Entrepreneurial Alliance to create the “flea market of ideas.” The flea market of ideas is a social program that encourages the members to discuss their business ideas as they work on developing their business plans, with the hopes that the members will enter these ideas into the business competition. As the chair of the leadership committee, Gallagher is in charge of running the flea market.
“The flea market helps provide constructive feedback,” Harris said. “The members can ask questions and get answers, and have others ask questions about their business plan to get feedback.”
The flea market meets every other week, and the board meets often to prepare for these meetings. “The flea market is the most productive when it turns into conversation,” Harris said.
The board members are in charge of researching topics regarding members’ proposals. “Our research includes resources in topics, such as links, worksheets with information and questions to think about [when designing proposals],” Chen said.
Both the Career Center and a variety of alumni have aided the Entrepreneurial Alliance in its first two years. Career Center Director Roger Woolsey and Associate Director of Employer Relations Erica Humphrey are the program directors and have worked closely with the Entrepreneurial Alliance board.
“Alumni have been very supportive as well,” Harris said. “Many are entrepreneurs themselves.” These alumni often serve as mentors for the participants of the business competition, helping students complete their business plans.
Chen and Harris cite two specific alumni, Brian Sharples ’82 and Mark Johnson ’96, as being extremely influential to the group. They both speak with members and help guide entrants in the business competition.
When it comes to this year’s business competition, the two spoke of a variety of ideas that members have discussed at the flea market that will be presented at the competition. Ideas range from reinvented, more high-end Croakies, disposable GPS bracelets for children in amusement parks, foldable bikes and more. One business idea includes opening a bar serving only low-calories beverages. Many other ideas center around smart phone applications.
Entry into the competition requires a lot of time and energy spent on researching and developing product ideas. Some of the students entering into the competition spent upwards of 40 hours a week on their proposals over JanPlan.
“A significant number of people have dropped out of the competition because they don’t have the time,” Harris said.
To prepare entrants for the competition, the Entrepreneurial Alliance offers many opportunities other than the flea market. “In the fall we had weekly workshops,” Harris said. “There were lectures about specific topics, including proposals, business law and distribution channels, and visits from entrepreneurs, alumni and small business owners.”
With the three leading members of the group graduating in the spring, Chen and Harris have recently spent much of their time searching for underclassmen to keep the group going. “We just recruited a group of ‘venture capitalists’ to join the Entrepreneurial Alliance, one first-year and one sophomore,” Chen said. The venture capitalists serve as professional investors, who will research as much as they can regarding the market for the members’ ideas and check the demand for that product. They will then ask questions that a real venture capitalist would present to companies.
Chen hopes to become a successful entrepreneur himself someday. “Working with the Entrepreneurial Alliance board has been one of the best experiences at Colby,” he said. “People are from all different departments, friend groups and interest groups. It’s amazing how many people have one common interest.”
While Harris may not have immediate plans of becoming an entrepreneur, she acknowledges the skills she has learned will help her in any job market. “This was my first experience working with a board like this—it’s very rewarding and fulfilling. I may not be an entrepreneur right now, but it provides tools for if I decide to pursue it in the future,” she said.
“I hope that students could be aware of [the Entrepreneurial Alliance] before they come to campus,” Chen said when he spoke of the future of the club. “I hope people will gradually see that anyone can be an entrepreneur with passion and good ideas. The training and resources may be more valuable than the actual grand prize.”