Reimagining Entrepreneurship at Williams

The rise of the “Internet of Things” — penetration of internet through embedded computers in gadgets — is creating global markets that were never before imaginable, from technology conglomerates like Alphabet and “sharing economy” companies such as Uber and AirBnB to FinTech startups that are reinventing the financial market. Launching a startup has never been cheaper or more lucrative: the millennials are capitalizing on the cloud for computing power and the social media for marketing to create multi-billion dollar business solutions.

In this regard, Forbes, a leading journal on entrepreneurship, is reporting not only on the most ground-breaking innovations but more importantly on how colleges such as Middlebury, Pomona, Colorado, and Skidmore, in addition to Stanford, are cultivating entrepreneurial ecosystems. Regrettably, while Williams was the #2 ranked college by Forbes, Williams has been inadequately preparing our graduates for a society that is changing at a remarkable pace. This stagnancy will soon be considered as backward.

StartX — Stanford’s Student Start-Up Accelerator

Certainly, efforts have been made thus far by the Center for Learning in Action. However, opportunities for learning about entrepreneurship and to be involved in business are still highly limited. The value of our Resources is certainly questionable. The Business Plan Challenge is headed in the right direction, yet it has attracted inadequate participation from the student body. Winter Study classes are undoubtedly offering invaluable insight into business, but the time-pressured nature of the term hinders sustained intellectual engagement.

As such, our team (Williams Innovation Lab or W.I.L) endeavours to nurture and evolve a more encompassing entrepreneurial culture at Williams. We will be creating a club, and through short-term and long-term projects, the goal of this initiative will be to equip more students with the confidence and direction they need to launch successful ventures right here in the purple bubble but more significantly post-graduation. Below, we have outlined what we plan to do at Williams.

Breaking the “Purple Bubble”

> Start an educational initiative like the “Book Unbound,” with a focus on public lectures. It is imperative to engage Williams students on a broader level with what is happening outside the “purple bubble” to develop an atmosphere of iconoclastic creativity, collaboration, and entrepreneurial freedom.

The Book Unbound initiative utilizes the fine collections of rare books at The Chapin Library.

Possible topics on the faculty lecture series can include but are not limited to:

  • Economics: Implications of change in the minimum wage on acceleration of automation of jobs.
  • Sociology: How technological revolution is challenging the existing socio-legal framework.
  • Mathematics: The growing security challenges of “IoT” and the shortcomings of encryption.
  • Computer Science: A new era of problem solving through smartphone apps.
  • International Studies: The multi-dimensional impact of technology in Africa.

The next step is to educate students on the utility and value of creating a venture to solve societal problems. The purpose here is not to provide insight on building a company from scratch (for this, see suggestion 4 below). Rather, it is to inspire and motivate students. In this regard, we would like to organize TEDxWilliams talks, which will bring entrepreneurial visionaries, ideally from Williams alumni network.

> Jumpstart a hacker community at Williams by hosting Local Hack Day, joining one of the biggest digital global hackathon events on October 10, 2015. Eventually, we want to host hackathon events with nearby liberal arts colleges and universities, such as Amherst, Harvard and MIT. Such an event will challenge and inspire Williams students to compete with the best technological minds in coming up with the most creative solutions for our society’s problems.

> Share informative articles on entrepreneurship and innovation on a daily basis through a new, officially Williams-affiliated social media. Some of our sources will be Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Harvard Business Review, The Economist, Quartz, TechCrunch, Wired, Atlantic, Bloomberg, TED, Fortune, and Stratechery.

Rejuvenating the Business Challenge

Encouraging dialogue and critical reflection on our changing society — through our aforementioned steps — will help fundamentally re-energize the existing Business Plan Challenge by slowly creating a culture of entrepreneurship. In that sense, a large increase in the participation of the challenge is one of our long-term goals. To gain more participants in the short-term, proactive promotion is a must. Months before the deadline for submission, our team will promote the event on social media along with our daily news updates.

While this will increase the number of interested students, this in and of itself will not lead to greater participation. We must enable students to participate. Too many students were discouraged from participating precisely because they were given no direction.

> Provide structured guidance for the Business Challenge. We propose for the creation of The Innovation Lab, utilizing the technological resources and collaborative space on the 2nd Floor of Sawyer Library. Through monthly workshops, faculty, alumni and student volunteers will guide those interested in the Business Plan Challenge. At the workshops, participants will learn about team dynamics (finding and forming a team), producing a sound pitch deck, and developing a viable business pitch (mock investor pitches to showcase participants’ startup concepts). Students will be able to seek constructive advice from our volunteers as to how to move forward in different stages of preparing for the business competition.

> Prospective students for the Business Challenge will have the opportunity to share their ideas with and receive live feedback from their peers at “Innovation Time.” Through Daily Messages, anyone will be able to briefly introduce their ideas and invite others. At “Innovation Time,” students will be able to elaborate on their ideas and engage in fluid exchange of ideas. By encouraging dialogue on entrepreneurship among students, this program will naturally allow students to meet potential partners for their business challenge. Ideally, it will be held weekly in Baxter Hall inside Paresky Center, or whenever there is a student who wants to share his or her ideas.

Steve Case ‘80, co-founder of AOL

Next Steps Forward

Paramount to the success of this endeavor is the support from highly ambitious, dedicated and creative students — we want to work cohesively, effectively, and consistently with other student groups, faculty, Career Center, and the alumni network to make a positive difference in our community.

Our goal is to transform our entrepreneurial framework, in which we can all thrive. Students of Williams College can think orthogonally, yet collectively. Hence our focus will revolve around inspiring constant creative discussion and collaboration. We hope to evolve our entrepreneurial environment through a process of experiential learning, endeavoring persistently to adjust, reassess and reimagine our approach, drawing lessons from the existing framework and beyond. We have put forward some ideas and suggestions — but, this is really just a glimpse into our long-term enterprising trajectory. We hope that you will join us in our quest to cultivate this new culture and enter a new phase of creativity at Williams College.

Yours sincerely,

Luke Michael Higgins and Eric Chongsuk Jeong

Class of 2018

Williams Innovation Lab