Alumni Column: On the Benefits of TIA

If you walk from the center of Hamilton towards the Jug, you might notice a conspicuously laid out space at 20 Utica Street.  An open design, akin to a WeWork space, presents itself.  It is the home of the Colgate University Thought Into Action Incubator.

Many readers of this article may not be familiar with the Thought Into Action Incubator (TIA) at Colgate. It was the brainchild of Andy Greenfield ’74. Himself a successful entrepreneur, Greenfield approached then Colgate president Rebecca Chopp in 2009 with the notion that he could work with students who might have an idea (the “thought”) that they would like to turn into reality (the “action”).  

TIA was born. Eight students worked with Greenfield that year.  The following year, Greenfield was joined by Bob Gold ’80 and Wills Hapworth ’07, and TIA started to take a significantly larger form.  I was lucky to join them in 2011, and am now part of a legion of 147 mentors who collectively have worked with students for over 22,000 hours.

So, what does TIA actually do? Again, the incubator serves to work with student entrepreneurs who have an idea that they would like to turn into reality.  The entrepreneurs, upon acceptance into the program, commit to working relentlessly on giving life to their ideas.  To quote the TIA website, “participating requires hard work, passion and perseverance as entrepreneurs refine their ideas, learn the art of the pitch, solve problems, deal with failure, build teams and attract investors and assets for growth.” What makes TIA unique is that it takes potency from parent and alumni entrepreneurs who volunteer to come up to campus once a month to spend a Saturday coaching student entrepreneurs. The mentors have deep experience in building companies, running non-profit organizations and draw from their experience in guiding the students. 

For the entrepreneurs, it requires a sizeable commitment of time.  Entrepreneurs are cautioned that the time commitment might feel like a fifth course. We are clear that the academic load at Colgate takes absolute priority, which means TIA will require that an entrepreneur will have less free time.  Most of the entrepreneurs would anecdotally add that the time is well spent.

The footprint of TIA has quietly grown large. Over its nine year life, 490 entrepreneurs representing 320 ventures have taken advantage of TIA. Those ventures can take the form of a for-profit business, a Colgate campus enrichment program or a non-profit enterprise. In addition, many of TIA’s entrepreneurs have made good use of the Colgate Entrepreneurs Fund, which gives grants to student and alumni ventures to come to Hamilton for a summer, use the incubator space on Utica Street and take advantage of the advice and counsel of 40+ mentors.  To date, 27 teams have benefited from the “efund”, and the results are impressive. By our count, those ventures have created over 100 jobs.  17 ventures are still up and running. The ventures have benefitted from $375,000 of seed grant capital, and have raised close to $12,000,000 in follow-on capital!

When I describe TIA to friends and alumni, one of the immediate reactions is for them to thank me for donating my time.  While I appreciate the sentiment, I take issue with any notion that my mentoring is a charitable activity.  I am taking at least as much away from TIA as I am giving.  The relationships with students and alumni of every age cohort are invaluable, and the excitement of watching entrepreneurs hatch their ideas gives all of us at TIA an incredible sense of fulfillment.

So, if you pass by 20 Utica Street, take a good look at the facility.  If you have an idea, and want to do something about it, check out TIA on the Colgate website (under the entrepreneurship tab).  Then, don’t hesitate to take action, apply and hopefully we will see you come September.