Start Me Up
By taking advantage of resources across the university, budding entrepreneurs are learning how to write their own success stories.
When senior Brian Yun was director of quality improvement for Tufts Emergency Medical Services (TEMS), he noticed that there was a lot of inefficiency when it came to scheduling student volunteers for shifts. Instead of working around the problem, he decided to find a solution.
Yun paired up last year with Noah Spitzer-Williams (E'06), a computer science major and entrepreneurial leadership minor to create the basic infrastructure for a computerized scheduling program. They drew up a business plan and presented EMS Planner at the ELS-sponsored Business Plan Competition last April. The judges were impressed, awarding Yun and Spitzer-Williams first prize and $32,000 to launch their product. In the months since, they've successfully marketed to collegiate EMS squads around the country.
While Yun and Spitzer-Williams have already transformed their idea into a business, some Tufts students are still pursuing their own version of the "next big thing."
"You have your schoolwork but you can also take a step back and work on a business that you're passionate about," Yun says of the entrepreneurial opportunities at Tufts. "I think it's pretty cool that [starting a business] helps you find something you're passionate about."
From scheduling software to online food ordering and beyond, the business innovations conceived by these entrepreneurial-minded students run the gamut. And Tufts' reputation for breeding entrepreneurs—one of the most famous of whom is Pierre Omidyar (A'88), founder of a little Internet auction company called eBay—is complemented by academic and organizational resources through which students can network with bigwigs, gain critical business skills and nurture those big ideas into realities.
Paving The Road To Success
The Entrepreneurial Leadership Program was launched in 2000 and has already made a big impact. Director Pamela Goldberg estimates that 100 students have completed the minor since the program debuted—growing from 12 in the first graduating class in 2003 to 30 this past year.
In addition to the classroom resources offered by the ELS program, students have a ready-made network to tap for advice, mentoring and networking thanks to Young Entrepreneurs at Tufts, one of the university's fastest-growing student organizations. The group is most well known for its Fall Entrepreneur Conference, now approaching its third year.
Spitzer-Williams says the skills he developed through Tufts' entrepreneurial programs are among the most important things he gained in his four years at Tufts.
"You get to hear what is happening outside of the University from real entrepreneurs. Everybody is so driven, and [Young Entrepreneurs at Tufts] allows students to present ideas, receive feedback and learn where they can take their ideas," he says. "When I go in for job interviews these days, this is what I've been pushing to distinguish myself."
He’s not alone. During the 2005-2006 academic year, nearly 200 students were enrolled in courses within the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program each semester, ranging from Entrepreneurship and Business Planning to Business Law.
"The ELS program is the closest students can get to learning about the field [of corporate life]," says Goldberg. "We see a broad range of students enter the program, from every academic discipline."
The Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies program and Young Entrepreneurs at Tufts both strive to set up networking opportunities for students, reaching out to alumni who are part of business enterprises. "We're finding ways to re-engage alumni who have not found a connection point with the university and are excited to be part of an entrepreneurial network," Goldberg said.
Getting A Head Start
An impressive array of entrepreneurial ventures has been started by students on campus, whether they were inspired at a young age or influenced by a course or speaker at Tufts.
Tufts and School of the Museum of Fine Arts senior Colin Rhys Holbrooke took advantage of the university's entrepreneurial course offerings to gain business skills to start and help run The Rhys Gallery, an avant garde gallery in Boston's South End.
He founded the gallery in 2004 when he realized that he did not want his future to be solely dependent upon his success as an artist. After taking a business planning course, he decided to minor in entrepreneurial leadership and eventually created his own major at the Museum School: arts administration.
"It's the most practical and applicable program to real world events that Tufts has to offer," the junior says of the ELS program. "Every major can benefit from it."
Some campus entrepreneurs, however, are making waves even without the benefit of Tufts' entrepreneurial courses. BreakfastAlarm.com, the Internet-based breakfast delivery company founded by juniors Ari Allen, Matthew Plitch and Ron Fisher, debuted last spring.
"When I had early classes, I wanted to have breakfast beforehand, but I was also lazy," admits Allen. "So I thought, Why not be able to place an order and specify a delivery for the morning using a credit card?"
The BreakfastAlarm.com team has already lined up one local eatery for its service, and plans to add more restaurants as demand increases.
One student-launched company that has already found success is Combat Studios LLC, an online video gaming company co-founded by Michael Lewis (A'08). The company, founded in 2004, develops tournaments for games that have been published by gaming giant Electronic Arts.
Lewis, a member of the Class of 2008 who will graduate a year early in 2007, explains that Combat Studios designs military-themed interfaces for video games and hosts a network where hundreds of gamers can compete against each other online.
One of Combat Studio's most popular products is the "Battlefield 2" game, which has helped the company draw attention from prestigious gaming publications like Computer Gaming World and PC Format Magazine.
It just goes to show that the seed of the next great idea could be found anywhere. And Tufts students have shown an aptitude for not just finding those seeds, but also helping them flourish.
"These students are proactive. They want to create their own life instead of having someone else create it for them," says junior Ben Gabin, who last year served as president of Young Entrepreneurs at Tufts. "They seek to combine their passion with their work, so everyday work is always exciting."
Profile written by Allison Roeser, Class of 2006
Homepage and side photos by Melody Ko, University Photographer
This story originally ran on Sept. 25, 2006.