Innovation center launches with fanfare

by Chris Leech | 10/1/14 7:08pm

The Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network has raised $4.3 million in alumni donations for the NEw Venture Incubator.

A full house of students, alumni, professors and community members packed into the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network’s Innovation Center and New Venture Incubator Wednesday night for the space’s grand opening. LED lights, which are usually set to Dartmouth green, pulsed different colors as a DJ played high-energy music and guests milled about.

The Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network has raised $4.3 million in alumni donations for the incubator, surpassing an original goal of $2.5 million, Innovation Center director Jamie Coughlin said.

Coughlin said around $500,000 went to construction and furnishing, with the rest funding events and accelerator grants.

Programming will include an entrepreneurship “boot camp” called Six to Start, which will include sessions on brainstorming, pitching, marketing and other similar concepts, DEN associate James Furnary ’16 said. The program will be open for public registration.

The boot camp will begin Thursday night with a talk by Mike Collins ’86, founder of the Big Idea Group, a consulting firm that works with inventors and entrepreneurs to generate ideas.

Other programming includes Lunch ‘N’ Learn and DEN hangouts, during which Dartmouth alumni involved with entrepreneurship meet in-person or online to tell their stories to students, Furnary said.

Coughlin added that the group is planning a two-week excursion that will take 10 undergraduates and five Tuck School of Business students to visit alumni entrepreneurs on the West Coast over winter break.

Furnary said that, outside of prearranged programs, students can come to the center with an idea for a business and get advice.

The center aims to support a range of proposals, from social ventures to for-profit businesses, Coughlin said.

While the space is currently open for eight hours a day and manned by DEN associates, Coughlin said he hopes to have the building open 24 hours a day in the near future.

“Innovation never sleeps,” Coughlin said.

Although the center had a “beta launch” in the summer, the official opening marks the beginning of a series of events that will continue throughout the year, Coughlin said. About 250 indicated they would attend.

DEN associate Martin Moon ’16 said the center shows the College’s commitment to promoting entrepreneurship and might make Dartmouth more of an innovation hot spot. He added, however, that entrepreneurship on campus is scarce compared to schools like Stanford University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Students often consider launching a new venture riskier than starting a career at an established firm, Moon said.

“Right now, the environment that Dartmouth produces is not conducive to an entrepreneurial environment,” he said.

DEN associate Josh Schoenbart ’16 also said that the building will be an important step for entrepreneurship at Dartmouth.

“The physical space is a place where you can go to be with others — it puts you in a different mindset,” Schoenbart said. “It’s fun, it’s active and there’s a lot of different people that can throw around ideas.”

Schoenbart first became involved in entrepreneurship in August 2012, when he founded EyeBook, an online service that matches optometrists and patients, he said. He was one of the first students to become involved in the Innovation Center.

“When I got to campus there was very little entrepreneurial activity,” Schoenbart said, adding that the new center will attract prospective students.

Adam Grounds ’16, a DEN associate, said that his involvement in entrepreneurship began last year, when he joined the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Society, which later merged with Mitosis, another innovation-based group.

He said he appreciates how the Innovation Center offers engagement on both short-term and long-term levels.

Grounds recalled that earlier in the week, he watched a group of students develop a concept in the center as he did work.

“Over the course of an hour, this idea took shape and developed into a full-fledged project that they were going to do,” Grounds said. “It’s cool to see students have the resources to take their ideas and run with them.”

College President Phil Hanlon announced the establishment of the innovation center last September in his inaugural address, which identified growing entrepreneurship and experiential learning as two of his primary goals.

The Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer coordinates DEN and the College’s other entrepreneurship efforts, a move announced in spring 2013.

In April of this year, Gregg Fairbrothers ’76, DEN’s founding director and a professor of entrepreneurship, was notified that his position had been eliminated. The transition prompted backlash and a petition in protest of Fairbrothers’s departure.

In a July 31 ranking, Forbes named Dartmouth the 10th most entrepreneurial school in the country.