Haverford Innovations Program Helps Launch First Tri-Co Startup Weekend

Aspiring student entrepreneurs from across the Tri-College community learned skills “related to problem-solving, team-building, and critical-thinking.”

Last weekend, aspiring student entrepreneurs from Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore Colleges came together for the first time to hone skills critical to starting, running, or growing their own businesses. The inaugural Tri-Co Startup Weekend, an immersive two-day-long series of workshops, owes its existence to the joint efforts of the Haverford Innovations Program (HIP), a new program this year run out of the VCAM building, and Swarthmore’s Center for Innovation and Leadership (CIL). An extensive curriculum used short-form presentations to cover everything from competitive analysis to market research to financial modeling. But, in keeping with the Tri-Co’s historically Quaker tradition, the overarching message of the curriculum was not “make money at all costs;” rather, it emphasized the importance of considering the social and environmental impact of any business venture.

Held over the course of two days on Swarthmore’s campus, the Tri-Co Startup Weekend transitioned from a pipe dream into a reality thanks in part to the efforts of what HIP Manager Shayna Nickel describes as an “active community [of students] interested in entrepreneurship” at Haverford. Wanting to nurture this growing community, HIP joined forces with its Swarthmore counterpart, as well as an outside educational consultant, to plan an event that would support both students curious about entrepreneurial ideation and development and those already actively engaged in it.

“Exposure to [entrepreneurial] ideas and tools can be a way for students to see if this might be a path they want to pursue,” says Shayna Nickel, HIP’s program manager.

Since entrepreneurial experience was not a prerequisite for participation, students weren’t left to work in individual vacuums; instead, they were divided into small teams, an organizational strategy that encouraged collaboration rather than competition and allowed a variety of perspectives to bubble to the surface.  By the end of Saturday, the teams were expected to showcase the various skills they’d internalized and the concepts they’d been introduced to over the course of the weekend in the form of a business pitch to a panel of professionals, including local entrepreneurs, who’d been brought on to provide guidance throughout the process.

“A startup weekend can be a great way to bring individuals together to begin the process of ideation around a problem or opportunity and translate [that] into an outline for a social or commercial venture,” says Nickel. “While challenging, it can also be incredibly rewarding from a learning, collaboration, and individual growth perspective.”

Photos by Alexandra Iglesia ’21, Wanyi Yang ’20, and Cole Sansom ’19.