How to Start a Startup @ Colgate

The Ultimate Guide to Starting Up at Colgate

By: Ben Sharf (Colgate ‘20)

The day you enrolled into Colgate University to officially become a Raider, you made the conscious choice to pursue a liberal arts education. This was a choice to cultivate your general intellectual abilities rather than technical or professional skills. As former Colgate President Jeffrey Herbst said, “problem solving is among the “habits of mind and skills” that a liberal arts education promotes, along with creativity, experimentation, critical thinking, the ability to communicate, and the capacity to work with others.”

All of these abilities point toward a qualified candidate to build a startup.

What is exciting about Entrepreneurship at Colgate is that it’s within a Liberal Arts context and we have almost a decade of experience now with formal programming. The result of combining Entrepreneurship and Liberal arts, along with a very closely knit institution, is that we see ventures of all shapes and sizes and goals, and they are supported by an incredibly engaged community. We work with students and alums starting successful for profit companies, non-profit organizations, local based program and campus-specific initiatives. And the REAL secret sauce is that over the past 10 years, Entrepreneurship at Colgate has cultivated an active network of 400+ mentors (primarily alums and parents) with deep expertise in starting and scaling early-stage ventures, and who give tremendous amounts of their time and expertise to accelerate ventures.

Our graduates have gone on to start amazing ventures with far reaching impact, including Chegg, Hinge, Energy Brands, Vitamin Water, Peace Players International, Kerosene Lamp Foundation, Artists for Peace and Justice, Craftsy, TicketFly, Outdoor Voices, AllTheRooms, The Bob Woodruff Foundation, to name a few. The success of these ventures is driven by an underlying desire to solve problems, and an ability to think critically and endure when challenges arise. The resources below do not guarantee your success as a founder, but rather are available to increase the likelihood of success as you start out on your entrepreneurial journey.

The guide is broken down into 3 parts:

  1. Colgate’s Thought Into Action Entrepreneurship Program
  2. TIA General Startup Resources
  3. Additional Resources

Part 1: —Colgate’s Thought Into Action Entrepreneurship Program

One of the hardest parts about building a company is just getting started. At Colgate, look no further than the Thought into Action Entrepreneurship Program (TIA). TIA is the front door for Entrepreneurship at Colgate, and most all entrepreneurship programming and resources at Colgate stem from TIA.

Colgate’s Thought into Action Incubator: Colgate’s TIA Incubator is a rigorous year-long commitment where individuals become entrepreneurs by taking an idea and relentlessly making it go live. Participating demands hard work, passion and perseverance as entrepreneurs refine their idea, learn the art of the pitch, solve problems, deal with failure, build teams, and attract investors and resources for growth. What’s particularly unique is that the Incubator is powered by successful alumni and parent entrepreneurs, who serve as mentors to our TIA entrepreneurs.These mentors have direct experience building companies, nonprofits and initiatives, and use this experience to coach our entrepreneurs as they go from thought to action. Through the Incubator, our entrepreneurs develop skills and lifelong relationships that enable them to impact the way people live, think, and interact in the world.

The Incubator provides participants unique access to an elite group of entrepreneurs dedicated to mentorship and the exchange of practical knowledge and experience. As they turn their ideas into actual enterprises, TIA entrepreneurs master the “craft of doing”, while navigating the adrenalized world of entrepreneurship. The TIA experience increases their odds of success in all future efforts.

In addition to the Incubator, Thought Into Action offers a variety of other events and funding opportunities for the entrepreneurs, including:

Seed Grants Initiative: The seed grants initiative is an opportunity for ventures in the TIA Incubator to receive up to $1000 in funding directly from the incubator. A series of requirements need to be fulfilled within the incubator to be eligible for the grants, but the grant serves as a stepping stone to raising more funding. They recognize that there comes a point in a venture’s development when compelling validation has occurred, and lack of capital begins to stagnate growth. The Seed Grants program is designed to accelerate ventures precisely at this inflection point; offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to take their ventures to the next level and further develop a valuable set of competencies critical to success.

Campus Venture Initiative (CVI): The CVI supports student entrepreneurs seeking to operate on campus with a variety of key resources to grow their ventures. The approval to operate on campus allows students access to an exclusive, high-trafficked location in the Coop to sell goods and market services, a ‘Gate Card machine to process payments, and access to TIA resources.

Entrepreneurship Summit Series: The program is typically a series of workshops and speaking engagements around a ton of different entrepreneurship related topics. They can be as specific as how to build a survey, film a kickstarter video, or how to run social media advertising, and as broad as a conversation about drones and 3d printing and the implications of these technology on the future.

This past year (2017), Colgate brought Startup Experience to campus for a 2-day entrepreneurship program. The program hosted a 2-day hackathon and each group went through the lifecycle of building a real viable company in the two days. Following the workshops was a 2-day immersion trip to New York City where all members got to visit with successful entrepreneurs and startups tied to the Colgate Community.

Entrepreneur Weekend (eWeekend): Each spring Colgate University celebrates, endorses, and advances the entrepreneurial spirit of its students and alumni with a weekend-long event. Real world entrepreneurs share success stories and lessons learned through a panel conversation to the Colgate entrepreneurial community including alumni, parents, students, and friends to help advance the entrepreneurial spirit on campus. Over the past couple years the keynote speakers have included: Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Ashton Kutcher (Katalyst) and others. This weekend is an opportunity of a lifetime for the promising Colgate ventures as they have the opportunity to participate in a Shark Tank-like pitch competition in front of the panel of credible judge in addition to networking with other entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs Fund (eFund): The Colgate Entrepreneurs Fund was established to grow the ventures of Colgate student/alumni entrepreneurs who are solving big problems and have demonstrated an ability to execute. Through spendable gifts made to the eFund, teams are awarded cash grants to bring their ventures to commercial viability. Along with the seed grant, the team receives incubator space for the summer in Hamilton, NY and mentorship from entrepreneurs in the Colgate/TIA network. The summer funding is for 5 to 6 legitimate ventures who can received between 12k and 15k in the form of a no-equity grant.

Part 2 —Tia General Startup Resources

The TIA General Startup Resources page is arguably the most useful online resource that Colgate has to offer. It is a consolidated platform full of helpful documents and links — some developed specifically for entrepreneurs in the TIA Student Incubator; all relevant to entrepreneurs launching ventures. Note: It is an ever-evolving page, so check back frequently. The page includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • Incubator lectures (videos and powerpoints)
  • Summit Series Recordings
  • Quality Entrepreneurship News, Feeds & Newsletters
  • Presentations & Pitch Decks
  • Legal Documents & Advice
  • Direct Links to Online Startup Tools
  • Funding & Media Opportunities for Social & Non-profit Startups
  • Internship/Job Opportunities from TIA Community
  • Top Incubators, Accelerators, & Entrepreneurship Programs
  • Top Angel & Early Stage Investors
  • Top Venture Capital Funds
  • Pitch Competitions and Conferences

Part 3: Additional Resources

Although the entrepreneur scene at Colgate is centered around Thought Into Action, the school does a great job of offering students alternative options to make sure they find the right fit in the ecosystem to be successful. I have comprised a list of all these resources to help you navigate through your journey as an entrepreneur at Colgate:

Clubs and Organizations

Colgate Global Entrepreneurship Network: The Colgate Global Entrepreneurship Network is a LinkedIn group with over 700 members comprised of Students, Alumni, Faculty, Staff, and Parents to discuss and share information and insights about Entrepreneurship.

Colgate Coders: Colgate Coders is a student-run club full of individuals who like to code and are interested in coding. You may find your next technical co-founder at one of the meetings, or you can go here to learn how to build programs yourself as they teach different languages. Additionally, this club organizes hackathons if are interested in participating in one.

Colgate Women in Business: Colgate Women in Business aims to educate students on campus about the business world and the opportunities available therein, specifically for women; to learn from businesswomen and Colgate alumnae; to prepare students for careers in the workplace, in both business and other fields; and lastly, to address women’s issues in the workplace.


Colgate Professional Networks Annual Hackathon: Colgate hosts an annual hackathon and this past year it was to help UNRAVEL, a Thought Into Action venture, with their technology platforms, marketing efforts, business plan, logistics, financial planning, and more. The event is followed by a post-hackathon networking reception.


Entrepreneur Network: The entrepreneur network was created by alumni volunteers and it consists of alumni and parents includes those who are employed or own start-up companies, are venture capitalists, or those considering entrepreneurial opportunities outside their current occupation. The goal of the network is to maintain the Colgate reputation as an innovative and progressive institution that helps develop pioneers in different industries.

Professional Networks Event Listing: The CPN Event calendar provides students with an extensive list of events where students can go learn about particular topics of interest, but also network with established entrepreneurs that also attend.

SophoMORE connections: SophoMORE connections provides second-year students with an opportunity to explore their academic and career interests through conversations with 120+ Colgate alumni, faculty, and staff. Keynote speakers tend to have strong ties to the entrepreneurial community.

Career Services: If you are interested in pursuing a career in entrepreneurship or even just finding an internship, the career services advisors have all the tools you need. Even if you are just looking for more avenues to network with alumni, they are in touch with alumni in every industry and can be a useful resource to find the connection you are looking for.


Fundraising can be very stressful for entrepreneurs when deadlines need to be met, people need to be paid, and growth needs to happen, but you can’t do it without a little extra capital. I have provided a few alternative avenues you can take as a Colgate entrepreneur if you need to seek funding outside of the university.

VC Funds and Accelerators with Colgate Ties

The following list of funds and accelerators either have a partner that graduated from Colgate or an individual with ties to the Colgate Entrepreneur Program:

  • Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) partners
  • General Catalyst
  • ICONYC labs
  • Spectrum Equity
  • Lerer Hippeau Ventures
  • Activate Capital

College Network Funds

  • Dorm Room Fund — Built by students and powered by First Round, DRF provides founders with a strong network of investors, world-class mentors, and a $20,000 check.
  • Rough Draft Ventures — Powered by General Catalyst, RDV is a student team building and empowering the largest network of student founders.
  • Contrary Capital — a university-focused venture fund with investors on campus at more than 40 universities across the U.S.


All good things come to end. At some point your time at Colgate University as a student will conclude, but that does not mean the end for your company and ties to Colgate. With a student population of only 3,000, it is crucial that we remain a tight-knit community. The Colgate alumni love nothing more than helping students and recent graduates chase their dreams. If you can afford a high risk, high reward endeavor at any point in your life it is now. Recognize that you are surrounded by a surplus of brilliant, creative, like-minded individuals and take advantage of the opportunities.

I would like to thank Wills Hapworth and Mary Galvez of Thought Into Action Colgate Entrepreneurs for helping me put together this article about the entrepreneur scene at Colgate University. Also, a special thanks to Dorm Room Fund and David Ongchoco for being the inspiration behind producing this article.

If there’s anything we missed that you think should be included in this guide, please feel free to send an email to

Dorm Room Fund is dedicated to supporting student founders across the country and helping them reach new heights — Check out our 5 year report to learn more about what students are capable of building

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