Last week’s profile of Andy Greenfield ’74 told the story of a man who knows what it is to try and fail. When Greenfield’s first major business venture, Essex Limousine Company, landed him in $250,000 of debt in 1981, he quickly recaptured his passion, rebuilt his confidence and founded Greenfield Consulting Group the very same year. It was not the first time Greenfield implemented that strategy. While at Colgate, poor academic performance during his first two years sent him on a leave of absence. But after discovering a passion for philosophy, he returned the next year and received straight As. Greenfield Consulting became just as successful as Greenfield’s second crack at college; it was sold to Microsoft for $486 million in 2008 Greenfield went on to start several other successful business ventures, but the personal philosophy he developed in the face of those initial setbacks hasn’t changed: don’t be afraid to fail. If you fall, get up, dust yourself off, and try again. Never let fear stop one from realizing a great idea through action.
Greenfield is well known for his success in business, but his name is being recognized more and more around Colgate for his latest investment. A couple of years ago, Greenfield and a friend were discussing how innovators end up turning an idea into something real. Believing that ordinary people all over the world have great ideas every day – Greenfield sought to identify what was holding these ideas back. He found that it was often fear and apprehension that stopped would-be entrepreneurs from realizing their goals: “Maybe I’m too young,” “Maybe I don’t have the resources,” “Maybe my idea isn’t good enough, or too incomplete.” With his experience, Greenfield decided he could design a course to provide students with the entrepreneurial acumen and skills to overcome apprehension, and follow through with their ideas. Hence, the Thought Into Action (TIA) seminar was born.
Thought Into Action is a new seminar at Colgate, but it can’t be found in the course booklet. After deciding to bring an entrepreneurship program to his alma mater, Greenfield approached former President Rebecca Chopp, Vice President and Dean of College Charlotte Johnson, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lyle Roelofs and several other administrators who all agreed that entrepreneurship skills epitomized the foundation of the liberal arts: critical and original thinking. They directed Greenfield to Associate Director of The Center for Leadership & Student Involvement (CLSI) Tennille Haynes. CLSI became host to the seminar, and before long, Thought Into Action was structurally planned as a year-long course.
Now in its second year, Thought Into Action demands an unusual commitment from its students. The seminar meets once a month for five hours on Saturdays. Greenfield is present for each meeting, along with two other alumni entrepreneurs, CEO of Ridgewood Capital Bob Gold and creator of Darkhorse Investors Wills Hapworth. Seminar students focus on one idea and work throughout the year to make it happen. Each session is divided into two halves. The first half is a lesson in which the three instructors impart entrepreneurial skills that can’t be learned in a traditional classroom.
“We develop communication and critical thinking skills,” junior Bharadwaj Obula Reddy a current TIA student said. “We don’t learn the business skills you would expect – like accounting. We work on things like focusing our ideas, interviewing, being interviewed and creating plans to turn our ideas into actions. The first lesson we learned was how to compact our idea into a focused, 30-second description. The skills are applicable to all parts of my life.”
The second half of each session is a group discussion that allows both students and instructors to discuss and critique each student’s progress. When class is not in session, the entrepreneur advisers are available for video conferences, and the students work independently to bring their plans to life. There is no grade in the course, and students receive no credit on their academic transcripts. But students must come with passion for an idea and the drive to follow it through.
Reddy arrived with the idea of creating an entrepreneurship club on campus. So far it has 15 active members and is growing. Sophomore Ryan Smith is working to create a paper distributorship that will bring the only carbon-neutral paper in North America to Colgate. While entrepreneurship is most often associated with the for-profit sector, about half the projects in the current TIA class are non-profit projects.
Both President Herbst and Greenfield are seeking to “scale-up” the seminar. While he wants to emphasize that TIA is always in a state of development, Greenfield is working on expanding TIA into the Thought Into Action Institute, with five sections of about eight students each, more alumni instructors and the possibility of an internship extension program for select students.
For someone who loves teaching, and mentoring young entrepreneurs, seeing Thought Into Action grow and succeed at Colgate has been a dream come true for Greenfield. In no time at all, an idea born out of a friendly conversation became a successful reality. If you were to completely disregard their past business success, the creation process of the seminar itself should prove that Andy Greenfield and his fellow entrepreneurs have very valuable knowledge to impart on Colgate students.
“99 percent of people I’ve met on Earth have had great ideas. A tiny fraction of these people make those ideas happen,” Greenfield said. “If the role of the University is to produce people who will go on to make a difference in the world, the only way to make a difference is by doing. And that’s what Thought into Action is all about.”