Innovation Spotlight: A Conversation with Elaine Chen

Director, The Derby Entrepreneurship Center

In this excerpt from a recent interview with The Derby Entrepreneurship Center’s Director, Elaine Chen, she talks about the role of the Center at Tufts and the hunger to improve society that seems innate to Tufts and Fletcher students. For more information about the Center, visit The Derby Entrepreneurship Center website.

What role does The Derby Entrepreneurship Center fulfill at Tufts? We develop an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset among our students and alumni and community members. And the way we do that is we have an undergraduate academic program, and a whole suite of co-curricular programs, which are things you do outside the classroom. We do one-to-one coaching. We do educational workshops and boot camps. And we're trying to do everything in hybrid mode so people can join from wherever they are. We do a speaker series and offer fireside chats with entrepreneurs. We offer a lot of competitions for our students to participate in to raise equity-free funding to support their plans. And we have the Tufts Venture Accelerator, a summer accelerator program for Tufts entrepreneurs who are especially serious about building a new venture, whether it is a startup, creative arts venture or a non-profit. So we're a full service entrepreneurship center.

How does the Accelerator experience differ from what the Center offers?
The Accelerator program is for the most committed venture builders. They’ve taken the courses and the workshops and competed in the competitions for equity-free funding. These are the people who have gone through the funnel and have gained some significant experience and demonstrated a serious commitment to their venture. It is a fully structured ten-week program, and it’s their last chance to work with us to help turn their dream into a reality.

So the way we work is that every week we meet with them in what we call the CEO scrum, where we go once around and say, “What did you accomplish last week? What are you planning to do this week? Do you need help anywhere?” And then we talk about the topic of the week. Every week has a theme and the teams have to prepare themselves to speak to that theme. At least once a week, we provide one-on-one sessions to make sure that we know where they are at and give them whatever help they need. We match each team with dedicated mentors who understand their area of business. When necessary, we go and find people who have experience that is relevant to them. We try to make sure that we get them at least two or three dedicated mentors who have experience in their particular space.

What are your thoughts about the six teams participating in this year’s program?
I feel fantastic about how committed they are to realizing their passions and solving problems through new venture creation. They see problems, and they take action. They are not afraid to apply their talents and creativity to fix these problems.

Tufts students are hungry to create change and have an impact. They are apt to say, “I want to fix problem X, how do I start?” And that's a great place to start. Because if you start with a problem, then you can pick the right solution. The issue is they don't always have the tools, they don't know how to do it. And that's where we come in. We give them the tools so that they can take action and turn their ideas into solutions that have impact.