More student groups embrace social entrepreneurship, support startups

Students participating in 3 Day Startup, a 72-hour entrepreneurial bootcamp at 574 Boston Ave, give their final pitches on Sept. 26, 2016. (Max Lalanne / The Tufts Daily)

Entrepreneurship courses at Tufts, run primarily through the Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies (ELS) program, aim to guide students through concepts relating to developing and sustaining the growth of new businesses. Classes offered by ELS, which is run through the Gordon Institute and offers an official minor to students, cover a range of topics, from the initial conceptual stages of a business to the final goal of moving to market and making a profit.

In recent years, however, there has been a growth of student groups on campus that aim to approach different concepts, ideas and social problems from a social entrepreneurship perspective, according to Co-Director of the Tufts Entrepreneurship Society (TES) Alex Rappaport.

He explained the meaning behind the concept of social entrepreneurship, which combines entrepreneurial ideas and pressing social issues.

“The term social entrepreneurship characterizes entrepreneurial development that is always focused around helping people, helping solve a problem, helping pursue a social initiative, helping make sure that the work that we do as entrepreneurs is making a better impact on the world,” Rappaport, a senior, said. “A lot of the ways that the [ELS] professors teach the courses and the ways students try to pursue their ventures [asks], ‘What’s a problem in the world I can try to help?’”

Since he became a director of TES, Rappaport has worked to refocus the group, which he said had felt listless in recent years and was having trouble finding its footing within the broader framework of the entrepreneurial community at Tufts.

He saw the skills that students were building in their ELS classes but noticed that they often struggled to find ways to turn those lessons into something more concrete. 

“They would channel that excitement into an idea, but most would realize that it’s really tough to take the next steps on getting that idea to materialize,” Rappaport said. “Few were able to figure out where to go or who to talk to for help.”

Rappaport said he recognized this gap as something that the TES could easily fill, and he moved to create a space that would help students move their entrepreneurial pitches forward.

One major achievement of this effort is the Tufts Venture Lab, a new space sponsored by the ELS program that aims to bring together teams of entrepreneurs looking to take their concepts to the next level. It is housed in the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex (CLIC).

“The Venture Lab is a dedicated co-working space on campus,” Rappaport said. “Students’ startups can apply to be in the Venture Lab, and all throughout the Venture Lab semester, we come up with curricula, events and things to help give you new access to professional contacts, resources and people who can help you develop your venture.”

Rappaport said that the Venture Lab has grown from 20 startup teams last fall to around 35 this semester, including teams from Tufts’ graduate schools, such as the Fletcher School and the School of Dental Medicine.

One such team is Acenna, a startup founded by three Tufts students that works to connect medical technology companies to researchers interested in purchasing their products. Currently, Acenna employs six students, and it has recently begun making sales directly to medical professionals.

Besides TES, the Tufts Consulting Collective (TCC), a group that focuses on providing students with hands-on consulting experience at local non-profits, has also begun expanding into entrepreneurship.

The organization is currently in the preliminary stages of developing a summer course in the ELS program, according to TCC member Taylor Wurts. More specifically, TCC is exploring the possibility of working with ELS to add a course based on entrepreneurship to the existing four course offerings to high school students through Tufts Summer Session

Wurts said the organization is still gauging interest and exploring what form the new summer course will take.

“We’re unsure yet if we’re going to be emulating the current ELS course format that’s offered throughout the year, or if we’re going to try to incorporate more general business principles, whether that’s soft skills such as management, HR, negotiations, conflict resolution or just a broader look at business principles, such as finance or accounting,” Wurts said. “We’re trying to understand what balance students would be interested in, in terms of a summer course.”

Wurts touted the value of entrepreneurship as an interdisciplinary opportunity for students to connect a variety of interests.

“ELS can function as a nice intermediate between business and liberal arts, where you can still apply business principles while gaining skills that can benefit you over a broad range of disciplines, whether that’s presentation skills or leadership,” Wurts said.

Another new group, TAMID Beta, has joined the growing sphere of the social entrepreneurship community at Tufts. TAMID Beta member Isaac Herman explained the group’s main focus is to provide students with experience in startup development and entrepreneurship skills through the lens of the Israeli economy.

“This semester, our main focus has been education, so we have weekly education seminars,” Herman said. “We have also been running a simultaneous start-up simulation, so basically we apply what we learn in these seminars to the development of a mock startup.”

Next semester, TAMID Beta plans to expand its reach even further by participating in a pro-bono consulting project for an Israeli company and running an investment portfolio simulation, according to Herman.

He emphasized the variety of opportunities available to those interested in entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurship on a larger scale is good for anyone to get involved in,” Herman said. “The things we learn are really valuable skills for people to have in the long term, just strategically and dealing with people in whatever profession you choose to pursue.”