Entrepreneur Weekend Draws Impressive Panelists

Colgate kicked off its third annual Entrepreneur Weekend at Cotterell Court on Friday, April 11, with a star-filled panel of executives engaging in an open conversation about being an entrepreneur in the world today. The panel was moderated by CNBC’s David Faber and was followed by three Thought Into Action (TIA) student pitches, modeled after the well-known ABC reality series Shark Tank.

As part of the Thought Into Action Institute, Colgate’s Entrepreneur Weekend series began in 2012 by bringing to campus Sir Richard Branson, founder of the multibillion dollar Virgin Group. Last year, Entrepreneur Weekend featured Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, as well as Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya.

Entrepreneur Weekend 2014 invited a new panel-driven style that allowed successful innovators and executives to discuss their own entrepreneurial journeys as well as offer advice to the over 2,000 Colgate community members in attendance.

“Our aim,” President Jeffrey Herbst said in his opening remarks, “is for Colgate to become a thought leader in explaining how a higher educational exchange can best prepare our students for the challenging 21st century.”

Despite all of the panelists involvement in rather high-tech industries, most have had no formal engineering or technical schooling. Panel member Ashton Kutcher, co-founder of Katalyst and A-Grade Investments, has attained entrepreneurial success despite his rather nonlinear background. Kutcher is a college drop-out who has spent time as a male model, an actor, a media producer and now as an entrepreneur.

“You never have to figure it out,” Kutcher told the audience on Friday evening. “You don’t have to know what you want to do. You can always get another job doing something else.”

The rest of the panelists seemed to agree. Brian Chesky, the youngest member of Friday’s panel, has found rapid success in his entrepreneurial enterprise, Airbnb.com, after stumbling upon the concept when he and his roommate realized they couldn’t afford rent. Now, Airbnb is a multibillion dollar company active in 192 countries across the globe.

“When I talk to young entrepreneurs and people in college, they think their options in life are what they see in front of them,” Chesky said. “What I don’t think they realize is that you can create your own opportunities.”

Of course, with opportunity comes risk. But the panelists felt that being willing to take a risk is what being an entrepreneur is all about, even if it results in failure.

“It’s okay to fail,” Kutcher said. “Just fail fast.”

A person’s willingness to overcome failure, what Kutcher called “grit,” is what he believes separates a successful entrepreneur from the rest.

The panel also agreed that desire to be a continuous learner is another imperative asset of an entrepreneur.

“Every interaction has a learning opportunity,” President and CEO of eBay. John Donahoe said. “The more you know, the more you realize you need to learn.”

A learning opportunity is exactly what the panelists provided three separate groups of Colgate entrepreneurs on Friday during their Shark Tank-styled pitches. All three ventures came out of the Thought Into Action program, where the students worked alongside alumni mentors to develop their ideas and turn them into tangible end products.