Posts Tagged ‘E-Tower’
Everyday I am reminded not enough people have a strongly defensible and emotionally charged response to this most simple of questions. Randy Komisar pleads with us to do something we would do for the rest of our lives, not because we should do it or will do it for the rest of our lives, but because deferring life now to find happiness later in most cases doesn’t work.
It is a fundamentally important question because there have been people I’ve worked with, at Blank Label and other places, who work for not necessarily the wrong reasons, but for reasons they did not know, or did not feel strongly about. This becomes problematic, because once you get over the honeymoon period, a startup is a really tough grind. And unless you have a good answer to ‘why am I here, what am I doing this for, why am I doing what I’m doing’, you will hit one of the root causes of startup failure, quitting during a dip.
Meeting people and engaging with them is something I enjoy doing on a fairly regular basis. For the most part, I love talking to people who are passionate, about anything. I’m not a networking fiend who has to find someone directly relevant, although I’d lie to say I wouldn’t brown-nose a little if there were, but I just enjoy seeing the energy of someone who knows why they do what they do. This week is about meeting a lot of people as I watch a new class of Freshmen roll into Babson College, and especially interesting, six new Freshmen joining E-Tower.
As I meet each and individual one of them, I’m going to try and pass on what the good classes are, how to do well with minimal work, which events to go to, what organizations to join, but most importantly I’m going to challenge them to be able to regularly ask themselves why they are doing what it is they are doing. These students are far too talented and have way too many opportunites not be treating that question with all the seriousness of why did they choose to come to Babson College.
Being active in the student entrepreneurship space as well as actually being a student entrepreneur at Babson; being the co-President of Babson’s E(ntrepreneurship) Tower and co-Founder of Babson-Olin Open Gate Initiative, I’ve been invited to sit in on some planning meetings for what (non-curriculum) entrepreneurship looks like at Babson ’09-’10. I’m always amused by my deep involvement with affecting entrepreneurship at Babson, especially given I’m not actually a full-time student. In fact my Babson Card says “Special Student”, and a friend reminded me yesterday, “you’re the worst ambassador of your home university, I don’t even know where it is!” This is a bad thing given the University of New South Wales gave me a far amount of scholarship money to attend Babson for a year.
One of the big sticking points during the discussion was what a hub of student entrepreneurship on campus would look like. There is a drive to have a center piece, an Innovation Central, where students would be meeting, working, hanging out, collaborating, etc. Now Babson already has an entrepreneurship center in the Blank Center, unfortunately no relation to Blank Label, and this summer for the inaugural incubation program they did open up the ground floor as student office space. A lesson to Aaron Gerry who is trying to build a hub of entrepreneurship at Northeastern, don’t use an open floor plan that has no discretion to the main door, and sits directly under two floors of faculty. In theory it’s a nice space, open floor plan allows open collaboration, faculty are close by for meetings. Lessons learned, most people didn’t use the space because it was distracting to have people in and out of the building, collaboration lead to distracting conversations, and faculty being right over the top gave this inevitable sense of Big Brother.
Olin actually has a really nice space at The Foundry, where a couple of Babson teams, including Blank Label, started spending most of their time. Now what about The Foundry can you put your finger on that makes it work. The fact that it’s an actual house rather than an office building helps. The upstairs is a suite of six offices, all dedicated to individual teams. The ground floor is split between kitchen, living room/ lounge and two conference rooms. It’s a comfortable, unpretensious space where people can play Rock Band during breaks, cook bootstrapped dinners to share with their teams, even sit on the porch and gaze at the stars on a nice evening to think about where next to take their startup. The fact that it’s detached and on the edge of Olin’s campus also is important.
Babson isn’t looking to build a house. And there’s no doubt you can foster a great entrepreneurial environment in an office building. During the week, I visited Boston TechStars, and I was amazed at how not sexy their office space was. I had seen photos of Y-Combinator and read many stories of the incredibly environment at TechStars, and yet when I turned up, there wasn’t cool lighting, interesting wall paint, large systems hooked up. So going back to the meeting at Babson, I exclaimed “people come for the people”. Of course this is a useless chicken-and-egg, but you put enough cool s*** in there, make it a safe, comfortable space, it’ll be up to the students to populate. You can only take the horse to the water.
One day soon, I will go and check out all these co-working offices in Boston to see what they’re doing right. But in the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions on what should be in a vibrant, highly collaborative entrepreneurial environment for students, please comment away.