While Tufts is known for its emphasis on "active citizenship," a growing number of students and faculty are wishing to bring "entrepreneurship" closer to the forefront of the university experience. The Gordon Institute, founded in 1984, seeks to assist inspired Tufts students as they bring their ideas to life through a variety of educational programs and annual competitions. The $100K New Ventures Competition, sponsored by the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (ELP) and the Gordon Institute, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Additionally, this year marked the first Tufts Idea Competition, which helps sponsor student's business ideas in their early stages.
The competition selected three winning proposals, each of which received a $1,000 cash prize for their business strategy. Trapsaver, presented by seniors David Leibenberg and Willem Sandberg from the School of Engineering, was one of the winning ideas. The product would assist fisherman in recovering sea fishing traps.
Thormika Keo, a clinical associate at Tufts Medical Center, and Diana Winston, a clinical instructor at Tufts Medical Center, also won for their Hadori Catheter proposal, a device that would aid physicians in visualizing colonoscopy procedures. The third winner, Syria Bicycle Company, was presented by Fletcher School graduate student Elly Teitsworth as an enterprise to employ displaced Syrians through bicycle manufacturing.
James Barlow, director of the ELP, discussed the wide array of applications to the Idea Competition.
"If you think about how a lot of those [business plans] have more than one team member, there's a significant number of people working on cool and interesting projects across the university," he said. "It was a really hard job to whittle down the finalists of the Idea Competition. To be honest, if we had greater capacity, it would be amazing."
This year, the Tufts Idea Competition featured roughly 135 experienced applicants, according to Barlow. The competition has offered budding entrepreneurs and future leaders the opportunity to exchange business ideas and strategies. This growing sense of entrepreneurial leadership, however, was not always as prevalent in campus culture, according to Barlow.
"When I started at Tufts a few years ago, the Business Plan [100K New Ventures] Competition I felt was somewhat under representative of the entrepreneurial capacity at Tufts," he said. "This is why I joined. We had 18 submissions to the Business Plan Competition [that year], and I was fairly convinced that we had the capacity of getting a lot more entries and a lot more involvement from the student body at Tufts."
According to Barlow, applicants were not required to know all of the tenents of business models in order to participate in the competition, but had to develop a great idea. He discussed the ELP's efforts to organize the competition.
"I'm thrilled about the changes that came with the competition and the things we've done to help generate ideas — [like hosting] workshops and better outreach — to really plug ourselves into what's happening in the dorm rooms and the coffee shops in and around campus," Barlow said.
Elly Teitsworth, one of the three winners, said her idea was inspired by the time she spent living in Damascus from 2010 to 2011.
"The inspiration for ... [Syria Bicycle Company] came from a Skype conversation I had a couple of months ago with a Syrian friend," Teitsworth told the Daily in an email. "He mentioned to me that the fastest way to get from my old neighborhood to his current neighborhood would be to walk — this shocked me both because that would require walking for several hours and because it used to be a fairly quick trip on the microbus."
Teitsworth attributed Syria's transportation issues to increasing fuel costs — a phenomenon that has affected social mobility for those aspiring toward a greater education or career change.
"There are so many Syrians — both inside and outside the country — who have been struggling to find ways to use their time productively and move forward with their lives at a time when they face so many constraints." Teitsworth said. "It has been difficult to watch the consequences of the conflict in a place I had come to feel so connected to, and the huge number of young Syrians who have had to put their education and career aspirations on hold seemed like one area in which it might be feasible for me to act."
Teitsworth said she firmly believes that bicycles are the solution to the transportation problem, and believes that her venture will make them more affordable and accessible to Syrians, while simultaneously creating more employment opportunities. She said she plans to use her prize money from the Tufts Idea Competition to study bicycle frame and wheel building, in order to aid in the company's manufacturing process.
Programs like the Idea Competition and the 100K New Ventures Competition are just two examples of the Gordon Institute's strong support of entrepreneurship in the Tufts community. Initially unaffiliated with the university, the Gordon Institute was founded by Analogic Corporation founder and former CEO Bernard Gordon and was originally designed to foster leadership in engineering. The program, however, has created many initiatives throughout the last 30 years.
After gaining recognition from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in 1991, the Gordon Institute officially became part of Tufts in 1992 and shifted its focus to promote up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the School of Arts and Sciences. The institute is responsible for the creation and operation of the ELP, which enrolls over 400 undergraduate students in its courses each semester, as well as the master's program in Engineering Management in the School of Engineering, which includes 130 graduate students representing 70 companies worldwide.
For some students, the Gordon Institute's courses and competitions are their first exposure to entrepreneurship and business. Freshman Lindsay Squires, who is considering a major in psychology, was drawn to the ELP for marketing reasons.
"I guess what ... initiated my interest in entrepreneurial studies is wanting to know how advertisers really market to their customers," she said. "I really want to know how they figure out what ... sells and how to get their business to be successful and grow."
As the Gordon Institute has expanded, Barlow said that he has noticed an increasing entrepreneurial potential among Jumbos.
"When I came to Tufts, I was very aware that there was bound to be a greater appetite for entrepreneurship to be represented through the competitions," he said. "I did not accept that 18 submissions [to the $100K New Ventures Competition] was representative of the greatest student innovations and ideas on campus, and I think I've seen that [come true]."
With the recent addition of the Tufts Idea Competition, Barlow noted that in the future, he hopes the university can provide a space for students to develop their projects with the help of the ELP.
"I think there are some really strong aspirations for the [ELP] to grow and build out its activities," he said. "I think it's a really strong space where entrepreneurship is energized on campus, and we've seen this really significant stride in that direction."
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--Reprinted from the Tufts Daily