It was only 10 years ago, fall semester 2009, that Colgate‘s first official entrepreneurship program started in a small room in the Coop conference room in O’Connor. Actually, it wasn’t very official at that point—there was just me and eight intrepid students who wanted to go from ‘thought’ into ‘action’, and turn their ideas into reality. The real backstory was that TIA was born when Colgate reached out to me and asked how I wanted to get re-engaged with the university. I responded that I’ve been an entrepreneur and teacher my entire life, so perhaps I could combine the two into a ‘program’ to help mentor aspiring Colgate entrepreneurs. And with that, a small seed was planted that grew to become Colgate’s entrepreneurship program. And to be honest, I never expected TIA to grow and develop the way it did. Fortunately, I was soon joined by Wills Hapworth ‘07, Bob Gold ‘80, and Mary Galvez, who helped build TIA into what it is today.
Over the following years some incredibly motivated and generous alumni, parents, locals and faculty joined the program, serving as mentors to aspiring Colgate entrepreneurs. These mentors provided the fuel that powered TIA, and made the program unique in the liberal arts world.
Colgate’s TIA was truly revolutionary, and was created at a time well before any liberal arts university was promoting entrepreneurship. TIA provided students the opportunity for something that no aspiring Colgate student entrepreneur had ever had before: the chance to actually launch a new venture, while supported, coached and mentored by experienced alumni entrepreneurs who had “been there/done that.” (FYI: virtually every one of the 150+ mentors in the program has uttered the words “I wish this was here when I was a student.” Well, now it is!)
The heart of Colgate’s approach to entrepreneurship is an intense and unrelenting focus on ‘doing entrepreneurship’, rather than ‘the study of’ entrepreneurship–actually launching new ventures rather than studying how to do it.
TIA entrepreneurship is turbo-charged by taking what many believe is the most important part of a liberal arts education–critical thinking–and applying this thinking to creating new companies, non-profits, and campus or community initiatives that solve real-world problems.
We sometimes get asked about TIA’s relevance to liberal arts. We think it’s a perfect fit. As a venue for applying critical thinking skills, TIA is effectively ‘the lab for the liberal arts.’ Or if you prefer an automotive analogy: TIA functions as the ‘transmission’ that helps take the power from the liberal arts critical thinking ‘engine’, and applies that power to solve real world problems.
In the 10 years since TIA began, the core DNA of the program has not changed very much, and is still focused on the craft of doing entrepreneurship, supported by experienced entrepreneur mentors. However, the reach and impact of the program have increased dramatically. 500+ Colgate entrepreneurs have been through the TIA Incubator; 150+ alumni/parent entrepreneurs have served as TIA mentors, as have a number of community members and faculty. Local entrepreneurs and Colgate employees and faculty have participated in the program. TIA entrepreneurs have launched scores of organizations that employ hundreds of people, produce a broad range of goods and services, and most important, have changed lives and communities.
TIA now works with the Hamilton Partnership for Community Development to help grow entrepreneurship in the region. And, TIA/PCD just landed a grant from New York State for $625,000 to help support and grow regional entrepreneurship. We are also just kicking off our seventh year of the Entrepreneurs Fund that provides cash grants to 4-6 Colgate start-ups to pursue their ventures in Hamilton for the summer.
Perhaps most important for the future of the program, TIA is now part of Colgate’s Third Century Plan, and will have a home and an important role in the upcoming Arts, Design and Innovation Center.
As someone who has spent his entire life as a serial entrepreneur, being a founding member of the team that created and built Thought Into Action at Colgate has been the most gratifying entrepreneurial endeavor of my life. It has given me the chance to work alongside incredibly motivated and generous mentors, helping a multitude of talented and passionate Colgate entrepreneurs, and giving them a launch pad for turning their ideas into reality. And these Colgate entrepreneurs will help write the next chapter of American entrepreneurship, and change the world while they’re at it.
Doesn’t get any better than that.