In his convocation address, President Barry Mills urged student entrepreneurs to prioritize a College education over their own projects, a remark that caught the attention of Bowdoin entrepreneurs on campus and those taking time away from school.
In a national climate where large universities and business schools are, as Mills said, “responding aggressively” to the challenge of graduating successful entrepreneurs, he argued that the role of the liberal arts college is to provide foundational skills for future innovation.
“My advice is to get your education at Bowdoin. It’s all well and good to start a food truck or spend your time building apps commercially during the academic year, but get your education at Bowdoin,” said Mills in the August 29 speech. “You only go to College once. These four years are the opportunity of a lifetime. Make the most of them and you will be well prepared for the future.”
Student entrepreneurs had mixed responses to this statement.
Alexi Robbins ’14 is taking a semester off to develop his music website, tamber.com.
“I know [Mills’ speech] is not really targeted but it feels a little bit,” he said.
Robbins is working with programmers near his home in Berkeley, Calif., and says that to be taken seriously by potential investors, he felt he needed to devote full-time energy to the website.
He plans to return to Bowdoin spring semester, believing that the “holistic education and approach to life” of the liberal arts has given him a useful breadth and depth of knowledge.
“Bowdoin lets you do a lot of stuff in your free time,” said Robbins. “It lets you pursue your passions.”
Robbins was inspired to create his company due to his own dissatisfaction with online music streaming.
“It grew from a few issues I have with music online which were mainly that there’s no good way for you to find out about music, and if you do find out about an artist, you have to go and illegally download their stuff,” said Robbins. “We’re trying to create a place to keep up with artists that you like and discover new artists and live shows.”
Simon Brooks ’14 agreed that Bowdoin’s nurturing environment has benefited him as an entrepreneur. Co-founder of online orthopedic mattress retailer College Comfort, Brooks started his business out of frustration with the lack of affordable and comfortable mattress options available to college students.
While there is no business major offered at the College, Brooks’ course load assisted him in launching the company.
“I’m a computer science major so I designed the website completely from scratch,” said Brooks. “[Bowdoin] prepares you to go out into the world and say if there’s something I don’t like, I can figure out my own way to do it.”
Co-partners Matthew Marr ’13 and Ian Lee ’13 are balancing education with entrepreneurship across two continents.
The friends recently launched the apparel company Marrlee&Co, described on its Facebook page as “clothes that people want to wear” inspired by “Maine’s laid-back attitude.”
Lee is spending the year at home in Hong Kong working with their manufacturer and developing an app, while Marr communicates with the graphic designer and web developer from Bowdoin.
“Starting this week we’re going to be working more intently on the project,” said Marr, noting that their initial goal is to develop a line of flannel shirts.
“People tend to wear flannel all year round. We’re taking the idea of the flannel and making it more well-adjusted to different seasons—different color schemes, and also the weight of the shirt itself,” he added.