Alumni summit, student contest highlight entrepreneurial ventures

Carleton's recent “Entrepreneurs’ Summit” combines alumni mentoring, student competition.

Professor Nathan Grawe Mar. 3, 2017
  • Students talk with President Steve PoskanzerStudents talk with President Steve Poskanzer at the reception following the competition.Adam Bigelow '20

  • Kurt Waltenbaugh '91 & Jake Phillips '07Kurt Waltenbaugh '91 & Jake Phillips '07 (foreground) and Sarah Goldman '17 & Bonnie Melville '92 compare notes.

  • Entrepreneurship Summit panel discussionPanelists Kathy Sundberg, David Beck '76, Jeff Lin '98, & David Gold '03 discuss their work

  • Kim Betz and alumniKim Betz, director of Carleton's career center, listens as alumni discuss how they can support entrepreneurial students on campus.

On the weekend of February 24-25, about three dozen alumni entrepreneurs gathered for Carleton’s Entrepreneurs’ Summit.

Participants brought a wide range of experiences. Some are entrepreneurs while others are investors; some have just recently begun their first startup while others have decades of experience with multiple ventures; some are at small outfits while others work for Fortune 500 companies making investments in startups; some engage in for-profit work while others pursue social ventures. In other words, like Carls in general, this group of alums has found a wide range of rewarding adventures!

The goal for the Summit was simple: Connecting with and learning from fellow Carls. The agenda of panel sessions and round-table discussions (developed by co-chairs Ethan Martin ’99, Kathy Roland ’80, and Nathan Grawe, the Ada M. Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor of the Social Sciences) touched on a wide range of topics: Venture Capital Basics, Startup Stories from Entrepreneurs, Growing and Staffing Your Startup, Social Impact Investing, and more. Through discussion and networking, Carls helped Carls with problems presently facing their businesses. After the Summit, one alum remarked "the Entrepreneurs’ Summit was an opportunity that has been wholly unique in the history of the College and I got more out of it than any professional trade show I’ve ever attended."

The alumni Summit concluded with a lunch program featuring updates from the winners of last year’s student Startup Competition. North Star Ice Cream, with Rohan Mukherjee ’19 (Hoboken, N.J.) and Beau Smit ‘17 (White Bear Lake, Minn.) are producing a premium, locally-sourced ice cream (and provided dessert!). Watch for their pints soon to be sold in the Sayles Hill center. Campus Red Caps with Mitch Biewen ’17 (Golden Valley, Minn.) and Jeremy Keane ‘17 (New York) run a college care package service.

Student Startup Competition

The 2017 Carleton Startup Competition engaged 19 students working in nine teams. Five teams were invited to the final pitch session following their submission of 10-page proposals. Alumni judges Jeff Lin ’98, Marc Schwartz ’91, and Kathy Sundberg ’84 had the difficult task of choosing two winning teams who each receive $10,000 fellowships to launch their venture.

Sabastian Mugazambi ’17Sabastian Mugazambi ’17 Photo: Adam Bigelow '20

In alphabetical order, the 2017 competition’s first winner is Adisa, which intends to create a web platform to connect African artisans with consumers in the developed world in order to side-step intermediaries which currently extract large revenue shares. Working with the U.S. State Department’s Artisan Alliance Program, the Adisa team of Sabastian Mugazambi ’17 and Claire Tagoe ’18 (Ghana, West Africa) will be able to avoid duties because their enterprise exists for the benefit of local artisans.

Cathy Chen ’17 and Robert Kearney ’17Cathy Chen ’17 and Robert Kearney ’17 Photo: Adam Bigelow '20

The second 2017 award was given to Lift Education Consultants. The team of Cathy Chen ’17 (Shenyang, China), Robert Kearney ’17 (Mankato, Minn.), and Jacob Snyder-Hansen are entering a quickly growing market. Almost 300,000 Chinese students currently apply to complete undergraduate studies abroad. To gain admission, many pay over $15,000 to consult with college admissions guidance counselors. The Lift team proposes to enter this market with tours of American liberal arts colleges. Building off Chen’s experience in this business working for another firm, the Lift students see opportunities to cut costs by focusing on the high-impact elements of others’ business models and so expand this tour service to even more Chinese families.

Generous Support

The Summit was supported by generous gifts from Solhem Companies (Curt Gunsbury ’89, owner), Vixar Inc. (Mary Hibbs-Brenner ’77, CEO), Carleton’s Career Center, and Office of Alumni Relations.

The startup competition is funded with support from the Ada M. Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professorship of the Social Sciences and the Raymond Plank Professorship of Incentive Economics.

Students in the competition were mentored by: Eric Carlson ’66, Dalgaard, Art Gilliland ’93, Mary Hibbs-Brenner ’77, Luke Lightning ’93, Ethan Martin ’99, Jim Watkins ’07, Jake Phillips ’07, and Mike Wiebolt ’08.