Colgate kicked off Entrepreneur Weekend 2015 on Friday, April 10, with a panel of five successful business leaders speaking to a packed audience in Cotterell Court.
The panel featured Jessica Alba, Founder and COO of The Honest Co., Neil Blumenthal, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker, Greg Coleman, President of BuzzFeed, Entrepreneur MC Hammer and Jennifer Hyman, Co-Founder and CEO of Rent the Runway. The conversation was moderated by Daniel Rosensweig P’15’17, Chairman and CEO of Chegg, who is also a member of the Board of Trustees.
Before the panel, President Jeffrey Herbst presented Entrepreneur of the Year Awards to Warren Adams ’88, Founder/CEO of Patagonia Sur, and Peter Sheinbaum ’92, Founder/CEO of LinkSmart, Inc. Both Adams and Sheinbaum came onstage to receive their awards.
Rosensweig invited the panel to share their stories as entrepreneurs, discussing how they came into their business, the challenges they faced along the way and their advice for Colgate students. Each panelist expressed a similar passion for thinking big and starting their businesses with problem-solving and social progress in mind.
Blumenthal, an International Relations and History major at Tufts University, said he never thought about being an entrepreneur in college.
“I’d say, oh, I want to save the world. There’s no way I thought I’d be running [an] internet/eyewear/fashion/retail company,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal started his career at a think tank in New York before working at VisionSpring, a non-profit organization that trains low-income women in developing countries to administer eye exams and sell glasses. Today, Blumenthal’s company Warby Parker sells affordable eyewear online. For every pair bought, the company donates a pair to non-profit organizations, much like VisionSpring.
“The best companies solve real problems,” Blumenthal said. “There are over 7 million people without access to glasses, and we think that’s crazy.”
Like Blumenthal, Hyman’s vision for Rent the Runway started with a problem she identified and wanted to change. At her first job after college, she realized that women have an added pressure in the workplace to dress a certain – and sometimes expensive – way.
“I felt that women were trained to aspire to a lifestyle that 99 percent of the world can’t afford,” Hyman said.
Rent the Runway is an online service that lets anyone rent designer dresses for four or eight days, allowing people to pay much less for something they might only wear once.
“I thought, wouldn’t it help women feel amazing about themselves, but wouldn’t it also open up the fashion industry,” Hyman said.
Alba and Hammer, notable for their work in film and music, both came to the panel with substantial business experience and advice for students.
Alba founded The Honest Co. after discovering the amount of toxins in everyday products when she was pregnant with her first child. She said that she spent a lot of her childhood in the hospital and started the company because she felt it was necessary to give her child and all other children safe, healthy and affordable products.
“We all created companies for us,” Alba said. “I think there’s something really powerful about identifying a problem that needs to be solved and solving it the way only you know how.”
Hammer, a prolific investor, entrepreneur and activist in Silicon Valley, is best known for selling more than 50 million records worldwide and pioneering rap in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I’m invigorated by the challenge. I want to use social media, technology, people, music and the arts to bring harmony,” Hammer said, addressing what he called a lack of communication and narrative in the world right now.
Coleman, who serves as president of BuzzFeed, said much of what he does involves betting on people.
“As a little kid, I could always figure out who the smartest person was in the room, and I knew it wasn’t me,” Coleman said.
He urged students not to rely on traditional experience to get them ahead in the world of entrepreneurship.
“You have to put a lot of thought into being creative, but also into being yourself,” Coleman said.
Following the panel, Rosenweig invited students to the stage to present to the Shark Tank, a competition between members of Colgate’s Thought Into Action (TIA) program. The event, inspired by the television show of the same name, let four student entrepreneurs pitch their business ventures to the panel to receive criticism and advice.
After hearing the student presentations, each panelist was given $5,000 to invest however they like to the four startups. At the end of the competition, senior Keshav Garg’s company Indify came out on top with $10,000. The startup uses an algorithm to rank independent artists on their potential for success and sells the information as a data service to record labels.
The other three startups, led by sophomore Daniel Mosko, junior Jake Danehy (along with incoming first-year Caroline Danehy) and sophomore Tyler Sherper, also received some portion of the panelists’ investments.
Entrepreneur Weekend continued on Saturday, April 11, with TIA student entrepreneurs showcasing their ventures in the Hall of Presidents and networking with guests.
Following the reception, TIA hosted an Open House to offer guests the chance to learn more about the program and meet Adams and Sheinbaum, the winners of the Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Concluding the panel, Rosensweig encouraged the young entrepreneurs to think big and asked the panelists to share one last piece of wisdom with the audience.
“Really go after that thing you love, even if you don’t have any experience with it because you’ll come with a fresh mind-set and creativity,” Hyman said.
Blumenthal encouraged students to be proactive in any job they might have.
“You need to be an entrepreneur even if you never start a business,” Blumenthal said.