Thanks to the efforts of alumni, student leadership, and the Career Planning Center (CPC), more opportunities are opening up for aspiring entrepreneurs at Bowdoin.
Romeo Ibanez ’15 and Alden Drake ’15 started the Bowdoin Entrepreneurship Club this fall, organizing students interested in starting businesses into a cohesive unit that can benefit from successful Bowdoin entrepreneurs from around the business world.
They see the club as a conduit for Bowdoin alumni to channel their advice and resources to students as advisors and active promoters of entrepreneurship.
Emphasizing that the focus of the club is not to provide funding for student ideas. Founders Ibanez and Drake aim to educate their peers about how entrepreneurs operate.
“Entrepreneurship is less of something that someone does and is more of a frame of mind,” Ibanez said. “We want to get them to understand that there is a disconnect between how society says an entrepreneur should behave and how it’s really done.”
The club meets regularly in two settings: general club meetings and smaller more specialized groupings. At the weekly club-wide meetings, Ibanez and Drake lead the members in applied problem solving, for example, walking through the steps of opening a restaurant in Brunswick. The goal is to address the critical questions which underpin entrepreneurship in all fields and lead students through the process of answering some of the key questions for their own ideas.
Then club members divide into five focus groups based on their areas of interest—biotechnology, non-profit, web and social media, finance, and service, retail and real estate—which each meet separately and discuss more specialized questions.
Kenneth Hsia ’15, one of the leaders of the finance group, explained how a group might go about this.
“Social networking, for instance, may focus on how websites generate their revenue and how to appeal to their user base,” he said.
While many of the club leaders have had experience in their own entrepreneurial endeavors, the bulk of the knowledge they impart to club members comes from the club’s network of advisors. These are successful entrepreneurs, some alumni, who have offered their support as mentors to the club.
William Farley ’64 is one of the alumni Ibanez and Drake contacted to join the club’s network of advisors.
“At Bowdoin you get economic courses, but they’re not going to do anything practical. How do you learn about entrepreneurship, how to start a business? It’s not going to come from the curriculum,” he said.
Farley, who owns a successful private equity firm, has committed to making himself available to students who seek guidance from him.
“As a resource, as a council, as a speaker to the club maybe whenever I’m visiting the school, that’s what I see,” Farley said about his role in the club.
This advisory network has in part been assembled by Ibanez and Drake, but has also benefitted from coordination with the CPC and other involved alumni. Trustee David Brown ’79 has worked closely with other board members and administrative figures including Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster and Associate Director of Employer Relations Todd Herrmann to promote entrepreneurship at Bowdoin.
Brown indicated that there is substantial support for this task from those he has spoken with. He emphasized, however, that the success or failure of such efforts hinges on the enthusiasm of the students.
“I think that’s one of the tasks ahead, to try to figure out what to do exactly is going to be the people who step forward within the student life, and we want to try to be supportive of what the students feel represents and can be effective at getting the organization off the ground,” he said.
Herrmann reflected that past efforts at promoting entrepreneurship from the top down have been largely unsuccessful.
“There was a workshop put on a few years ago and only a few people showed up and it didn’t look good,” said Herrmann.
He is optimistic, however, about the current prospects for entrepreneurship at Bowdoin.
“Only through the use of the club can a real need or desire, and interest be promoted, and they’re doing that now,” Herrmann said.
Ibanez and Drake are not the first to start an entrepreneurial club. Last semester there was another group with similar goals, but it was not chartered by the Student Organization Oversight Committee and had not expanded its membership to the levels seen by the current club.
“Two of the principal organizing forces behind that club took the semester off to work on their own companies so essentially there was a leadership vacuum,” Ibanez said. “If both the president and vice president of the organization have gone you can’t really expect to continue working within that same framework.”
Herrmann was eager to point out that the CPC’s efforts are not exclusive to profit ventures.
“We find that Bowdoin’s most famous and deserving of praise in the entrepreneurship realm are people who are doing things to preserve and spread the common good, and we want that to continue to be a major feature of anything we do on the entrepreneurship team,” he said.