Student Entrepreneurs Showcase Ventures Virtually

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If there’s one thing an entrepreneur needs to know, it’s how to pivot. With the COVID-19 pandemic throwing a wrench into their original plans, entrepreneurs with the Thought Into Action (TIA) Incubator are taking this mantra to heart, thinking on their feet and adapting to new circumstances.

Open to students, alumni, and local community members students, “TIA enables participants to go through the process of developing a solution to a problem or a challenge that they see in the world,” says Carolyn Strobel, the program’s director. “It teaches them the skills to build their own venture from the ground up and how to be flexible when things don’t turn out as expected.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, TIA took its April 4 mentor meeting online. Andy Greenfield ’74, who co-founded the TIA Incubator in 2010 with fellow alumnus Wills Hapworth ’07, encouraged this year’s cohort of 53 entrepreneurs to lean into change. “An entrepreneur’s path is strewn with challenges, problems, disruptions — that’s the sport you all have chosen,” he said. “The mark of an entrepreneur is how they deal with those problems.”

Typically, TIA culminates in Entrepreneur Weekend, during which the ventures showcase their products and solutions. It includes a Shark Tank pitch competition and a panel discussion with industry leaders and mentors, but the majority of the activity for the entrepreneurs is the demo fair: each team sets up a booth and presents its venture to alumni, parents, faculty, and staff in hopes of fostering future business connections.

This year, the program has — in the true spirit of entrepreneurship — adapted to the changing circumstance, evolving into the Virtual Venture Showcase. This showcase, launching Saturday, April 18, will highlight 32 unique businesses, nonprofits, and campus initiatives.

On the showcase website, visitors can read about these ventures, watch their video pitches, and actively help these ventures grow by clicking the “I Can Help” button. Participating ventures range from organic, waste-free overnight oats brand øats, developed by Alique Fisher ’22, and social media marketing services like Sheila Dunne ’20 and Luke Goodwin’s company, DunneGoodwin, to The UCan Project, a nonprofit sustainability consulting firm, founded by Christina Weiler ’21.

“The whole TIA team has really been challenged to put our money where our mouth is, embrace disruptions, and create new solutions,” said Michael Sciola, associate vice president for career initiatives.

Forming new connections is at the heart of the TIA mission. At last year’s Entrepreneur Weekend, Megan Martis ’20 and Monica Dimas ’19 leveraged their new connections to launch pre-orders for their sustainable clothing brand, CLOVO.

“TIA, and the demo fair in particular, has been a great experience because we’ve had lots of opportunities to learn firsthand from alumni mentors,” Martis reflected. “That contact has been especially helpful for learning important skills like how to market online and how to build trust with customers.”

Despite the roadblocks, Sciola sees the format change as an opening for the spirit of entrepreneurship to shine through. “There’s a great opportunity for our teams to look at their ventures through the lens of COVID and think, ‘Okay, this is the way things are. How can we pivot and move things forward?’” 

To participate in the Virtual Venture Showcase and learn more about this year’s TIA ventures, visit the showcase website.