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Thought into Action is now Colgate’s Entrepreneurship Institute by Wills Hapworth ’07, Alumni Executive Director

By Contributing Writer on February 18, 2014

Thought into Action (TIA) began in 2009 as a small boot camp at Colgate for students that wanted to take an idea and turn it into something real. Led by one visionary alumni mentor, Andy Greenfield ‘74 P’12, seven intrepid teams learned just how difficult, rewarding, and character transforming it is to move from idea to reality. Five years later the TIA Student Incubator remains the crown jewel of Colgate entrepreneurship, but so much has happened since then!TIA Entrepreneurship Institute

This past fall, the Thought into Action Entrepreneurship Institute was created to serve as the umbrella for all the entrepreneurial activity and programming that has been created since Andy set the first ripples in motion. With the mission of supporting, promoting, and advancing entrepreneurial activity across the Colgate community, the institute now includes the Student Incubator, Entrepreneurs Weekend, The Entrepreneurs Fund, the Entrepreneurs Club, the Entrepreneurship Summit Series, and our biggest asset – a growing community of Colgate entrepreneurs.

Our core TIA team of Jean Schroder, Mary Galvez, Bob Gold ‘80, Andy Greenfield and Wills Hapworth ’07 has consistently tried to innovate and push the boundaries where possible, but we have also tried to remain true to a few core beliefs, that continue to guide our future thinking.

We believe that entrepreneurship is truly about the act of creating something that did not exist before. It’s not about making lots of money, accumulating power and influence, securing big capital raises, etc. Those are all very useful measures of success, but at the end of the day it’s the act of creating something that didn’t exist before that is the essence of true entrepreneurship. Mastering the ‘craft of doing’….developing the ability to ‘make stuff happen’, is what we all expect our young entrepreneurs to come away with. And this is a skill that can be applied across every aspect of their lives going forward….regardless of whether or not they become full-time entrepreneurs.

Great mentorship –provided by the incredible commitment of alumni and parent mentors–forms the heart and soul of the TIA incubator, and really distinguishes the TIA Entrepreneurship Institute from programs at other universities. We are so fortunate to have such a long and rich history of entrepreneurs at Colgate, that feel so much love for the school that they’re willing to come back and give of their most precious resource…their time. It’s a good thing we don’t have to pay them their market rate or our program would never exist! But those who have experienced the value of a great mentor know how special and elevating that relationship can be. It is unequivocally the engine that drives our entrepreneurial programs and we are immensely thankful of all the mentors’ work…thank you.

Lastly, in entrepreneurship you must reward and encourage action, execution, “trying it”, or whatever else you want to call it. “I’ve met thousands of people with great ideas” as Andy says, “and they’re all worth about 25¢”. It’s only through hard work, perseverance, testing, failing, getting up again, and evolving that you can turn a “good idea” into something that is great and changes the world. “Action” and “Just Do It” are the mantra at the foundation of all entrepreneurial programming we look to develop at Colgate.

We have also learned a lot along the way and thought it would be interesting to share some of our key insights:

  • “Liberal arts” is an ideal environment for entrepreneurship, where the critical thinking “engine” of the classroom meets the executing “transmission” of an entrepreneurial culture.
  • There is NO replacement for getting great people together in person…no software or telephone conversation can replace the magic that happens when great minds get together because they WANT to.
  • Entrepreneurial ecosystems take a long time to build, but are very dedicated and tightly knit, and create value in so many different and unexpected ways.
  • Being an entrepreneur and being entrepreneurial – no matter what, it is a mindset towards solving problems that is valuable for anyone to develop, whether starting your own company or leading a team within a large non-profit, etc.
  • There is no replacement for the love that people feel for Colgate, and developing programs where all constituencies interface in a meaningful way to share experience and knowledge is as good as it gets.
  • As important as the bottom-up approach has been in building true believers, the support we’ve enjoyed from President Herbst and others at the top, has created a perfect storm for entrepreneurship to flourish at Colgate.

Through hard work, perseverance, and adaptability, what started as a simple idea 5 years ago has turned into a groundswell of activity and opportunity at Colgate around the idea of entrepreneurship. But no startup is successful without a sprinkling of luck and good fortune, and luck in our case came in the form of the overwhelming entrepreneurial spirit from the Colgate community. This stuff is core to our community’s DNA, and we are only beginning to scratch the surface.

Thank you for all of the support, critique, insight, commitment and patience. We are all in this together and we hope you’ll visit the institute pages to see the latest results of this giant group effort, and continue to inform us and think about getting involved!

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