Last Saturday the Career Development Office and the John C. Whitehead ’43 Program in Entrepreneurial Studies sponsored an all-day conference on Fords and the Entrepreneurial Spirit. Attended by alumni and current students, the on-campus event was geared towards those who have started their own business or those that hope to in the future. It was composed of three panel discussions, primarily featuring alums who are engaged in starting or sustaining new business initiatives, and lunch with keynote speaker Mac Gamse ’93, the CEO and founder of Meritas, LLC, a worldwide family of college-prep schools.
In Gamse’s talk, “Innocence and Experience: The Lessons Learned of a Serial Entrepreneur,” he urged current students to work hard and find mentors that are committed to helping them. He also discussed the practicalities of a new business and his own often-bumpy road to success, emphasizing that budding entrepreneurs need to keep a foot in two worlds: the world of “innocence” or passion for their work, and the world of experience, which includes the harsh realities of business. In fact, he said, “what I’ve realized is that they are the same world.”
““Look at your career as a mission you want to achieve,” he told the assembled crowd. “Figure out what skills you need to accomplish that mission, and then let nothing get in the way of developing or learning those skills.”
The day’s first panel, “Funding: Raising It and Investing It,” featured Richard Glaser ’83, a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch- Global Wealth Management; Phineas Barnes ’98, a principal at First Round Capital; Matt Joyce ’03, executive director of GreenLight Philadelphia and co-founder of the Philly Fellows program; Manuel Mattke ’90, the COO of Kingswood Group; and Lisa Piraino ’04, director of annual giving at the American Red Cross’ Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter.
The post-lunch panel, “Social Entrepreneurship as an Agent of Social Change,” featured Vice President of Community Energy’s Retail Division Jay Carlis’99 and Managing Partner at Agora Partnerships Ben Powell ’93, and was moderated by Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics Shannon Mudd.
The final panel, “The Early Years of an Enterprise: Starting Up and Making it Work,” was especially eagerly anticipated by attendees hoping to learn exactly how the different panelists launched their own ventures. President of MAXSA Innovations Skip West ’77 moderated a discussion between Ty Ahmad-Taylor ’90, CEO and founder of FanFeedr; Brad Aronson ’93, founder of iFrontier and kindness blogger; and Nick Farina ’10, CEO Jetzet. All three panelists agreed that starting your own business is difficult and often risky (Ahmad-Taylor called it “making a bet on yourself”), but rewarding.
The panelists encouraged interested Fords to take that chance , and Aronson even encouraged students to launch their businesses while still at Haverford in order to take advantage of the College’s resources and take risks in a supportive environment. They all agreed that it takes a lot of hard work to make a business idea come to life and that you need money and “top-shelf talent” to make a start-up thrive.
But, added Farina, “if you aren’t getting rejected every day, you aren’t trying hard enough.”
Reported by Samantha Drake