TEC Founder’s Workshop connects entrepreneurial alumni, students

Students are pictured at the Tufts Entrepreneurship Center’s Founder’s Workshop at the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex. Courtesy Tufts Gordon Institute

The Tufts Entrepreneurship Center (TEC) hosted its Founder’s Workshop at 574 Boston Avenue on Feb. 22 to facilitate networking with speeches about the art of the pitch and lengthy question and answer sessions about fundraising strategies. The theme, “Finding the Best People & Money to Start Your Business,” attracted students of varying ages, interests and experience levels to interact face-to-face with startup founders, investors and student entrepreneurs.

TEC Program Administrator Carol Denning oversaw the logistics of the event and worked with the speakers to develop the content of the workshop. In describing the speakers TEC sought for the Founder’s Workshop, Denning emphasized how TEC intended the event to be an opportunity for students to learn from those with real-world experience.

“Our keynote speakers are our serial entrepreneurs that have run successful startups and can share some of their life experiences … We also have a venture capitalist panel for an opportunity to ask specific questions,” Denning said. “[Together] they provide a workshop for students and those who are interested in entrepreneurship to just learn a little more about entrepreneurship.”

Alex Aronson, an intern with the TEC and a senior minoring in entrepreneurial leadership studies, said that individuals with little experience in start-ups could benefit from the business-centered lectures and networking emphasis of the Founder’s Workshop.

“This stuff is so cool, you get so much out of it even if you’re not interested in starting your own startup,” Aronson said.

The opportunity to learn from top talent and network with possible investors attracted burgeoning entrepreneurs from all over Boston. Cindy Zhuo, a graduate student at Boston University, made the trek to Medford on behalf of Hemplete, a hemp-based protein bar startup for which she serves as chief marketing officer.

“We have momentum but still need cash to grow the company to the next level,” she said. “That’s why I came here trying to learn more, get some information and do some networking.”

Zhuo expressed how listening to the experiences of fellow entrepreneurs impacts her and her company. She connected with the story of speaker Dan Schorr, founder and chief ice cream officer of start-up Vice Cream.

“It’s interesting to hear food entrepreneurs, [in addition to] also investors’ perspectives and some pipeline angels that actually invested in food and beverage companies,” Zhou said.

Schorr, a Tufts alumnus (LA ’17), said he was glad to see how the Founder’s Workshop and other entrepreneurship events at Tufts allow graduates to continue contributing to their alma mater.

“I think it’s great to bring back a different generation … I can learn from them and, hopefully, they can learn from me,” he said.

Schorr expressed enthusiasm at the chance to come back to Tufts and share his experience.

“I am just thrilled and kind of lighting up about being back in touch with the university,” Schorr said.

Schorr left the workshop excited about the many projects students were working on and the future of Tufts entrepreneurship.

“I’m so impressed after today,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised but just really impressed and in awe of the students here.”

James Aronson (LA ’18), who graduated from Tufts with a degree in mechanical engineering, is currently working towards a Master of Science in Innovation & Management at the Gordon Institute and attended the event on Friday. He co-founded Vacuusafe, a startup developing improved methods of preserving biological samples. With his company in the semifinals of the Gordon Institute’s 100K New Business Ventures Competition, Aronson hoped to learn what to expect of the future of his business venture at the Founder’s Workshop.

“[At] an event like this, you get to meet so many different people who are working on a variety of different projects and who have experiences far beyond [mine],” he said. “These people know far more than I do and have navigated all the challenges that I’m going to have to navigate.”

For Aronson, the interaction between experts and fellow newcomers in the startup scene created powerful learning opportunities at the Founder’s Workshop.

Catherine Popper, a Tufts alumna (LA ’87) and an angel investor at the Launchpad Venture Group, participated in the workshop’s Early Stage Venture Capital Roundtable as a part of her greater role within the TEC.

“I have been helping out with the TEC as both mentor, coaching some of the teams, I’ve been judging a couple of the different competition, [and] I’m a screener for the upcoming 100K competition,” she said.

Popper will be joining the board of advisors for TEC, according to TEC Director Jack Derby, and she hopes to see the program’s visibility at the university continue to rise.

“[I want to] continue to raise the profile of Tufts as a great place for entrepreneurship,” she said.

While Denning explained that the Founder’s Workshop is a bi-annual event, she elaborated on the ongoing efforts of TEC to offer continual presence and support for entrepreneurship at Tufts.

“We have weekly Jumbo Cafés … and we have target topics each week that appeal to entrepreneurs,” Dennings said. “These [Jumbo Cafés] are drop-in sessions and it’s an opportunity for students in a more intimate setting to ask questions and get feedback from experts.”