Students put ‘thought into action’ for profit, social good

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With talk of fame, fortune, and outer space, Richard Branson can cause a flash of inspiration in almost anyone. But the Colgate student who doggedly toils outside the classroom to make a profit or make a difference might be a born entrepreneur.

Colgate’s Thought Into Action Institute (TIA), a selective program that requires both a viable idea and tremendous commitment, gives students access to the business and life experience of some of the most the most successful entrepreneurs, marketers, and financiers in the Colgate community.

Now in its third year, TIA was co-founded by veteran entrepreneur Andy Greenfield ’74 P’12; Wills Hapworth ’07, president, DarkHorse Investors; and Bob Gold ’80 P’15, president and CEO, Ridgewood Capital.

“There’s nothing more empowering for anyone than making something happen on earth… going from thought to action, from theory to practice,” said Greenfield, who has the enthusiasm of a 12-year-old with his first lawn-care business. “And once you have that experience it is liberating, it is empowering, and it is a hell of a buzz.”

On Saturday of Entrepreneur Weekend, 25 students demonstrated ideas that ranged from a zipper that will never get stuck in fabric (from James Frankel ’13), to a mobile system that tracks the whereabouts of the Colgate Cruiser (from Justin Altus ’14). Alumni, parents, and students quizzed the entrepreneurs, who seemed to have thought through obstacles as well as opportunities.

Lynn Plant ’77, founder and CEO of BrandCentric Inc., who volunteers as a mentor, was impressed at the students’ combination of academic and practical skills. “The students working on the Colgate garden are serious scientists. And some really brilliant engineers and mathematicians are behind the technology projects.”

President Jeffrey Herbst said he sees a strong connection between entrepreneurship and the liberal arts. “Our students learn to think critically and understand disruption,” he said, “A program like this can help prepare them for a lifetime of creativity in whatever fields they choose.”

After lunch, a series of panel discussions shifted the focus from student projects to how some established businesses were financed and launched on the ground, on the web, and in the public sector. And a food and wine event showcased Colgate restaurateurs and vintners.