Scores of alumni, students, faculty and other Dartmouth community members gathered at the Hanover Inn to celebrate and strengthen a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
With celebrated alumni, faculty, current students and even local high schoolers in attendance, Jamie Coughlin, Director of the Magnuson Center, opened the annual Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Forum earlier this month, held in Hanover for the first time since the pandemic.
“What’s so impressive to me is to see the diversity of our community,” Coughlin told the crowd during his opening remarks.
The programming throughout the all day event reflected the wide array of expertise and experience within the room. The headline event was a fireside chat with Andrew Housser ’95, Founder and CEO of Achieve, a financial technology company that employs more than 3,000 people. Housser spoke with fellow Magnuson Board of Advisors member Andrea Johnson ’91, co-founder and CEO of Rally Reader.
In addition to discussing his origin story, Housser discussed his unique position as co-CEO with co-founder Brad Stroh. Although the two have very different personalities, Housser said, their partnership works because they have shared values and a vision of building the business over time.
“We agree on the fundamental things that are really important,” Housser said. “Having a cofounder push pack can at times be frustrating, but it does keep you honest.”
A peek into the mind of a VC
Later in the morning, Chair of the Board of Advisors Jeff Crowe, Managing Director of Norwest Partners, offered attendees a glimpse into the mind of a venture capitalist during an initial meeting.
Nando Austin D’06 pitched Crowe his idea for an eco-tourism venture live before the crowd. As attendees watched the pitch unfold, Crowe interjected with what he was really thinking at every point.
“The entrepreneur never really gets to know what VCs are thinking,” because feedback during meetings is often limited and polite, Crowe explained.
“There are things the entrepreneur has never heard before, because VCs never tell the entrepreneur what’s going on in their brains,” he said.
As Austin explained his background running a nonprofit, Crowe said nonprofit experience can be a boon for entrepreneurs shifting into the for-profit space.
“In the realm of venture capital, I have tremendous respect for someone who has bootstrapped a business and run it for over a decade,” Crowe said.
Crowe reminded founders that “VCs are very data hungry.”
“Ultimately investors have to see a path to making money,” he said. “That’s why you invest.”
The job of founders during a first meeting is to demonstrate the potential and pique an investor’s interest enough to prompt a second meeting. The decision happens very quickly as the partners chat in the five minutes after a meeting ends, Crowe said.
“We have to move so fast, to make a decision whether we spend more time or not,” learning about a venture, Crowe said. “We have so many companies coming in that we can’t spend lots of time on many companies.”
Arts, athletics, science and entrepreneurship
During breakout sessions, attendees heard about the intersection of arts, athletics and science with entrepreneurship.
Lindsay MacMillon ’16 said she felt pulled between two different worlds as she worked in financial modeling at Goldman Sachs while drafting her novel, “The Heart of the Deal.”
“It felt like there were polar opposites: corporate Lindsey and creative Lindsey,” she said. However, after selling her book she realized that the skills she learned on Wall Street could be applied to help her artistic career. She was able to reconcile both of her skill sets to advance her publishing career.
Like MacMillion, Pete Mathias Tu ’16 joined seemingly disparate skill sets: drumming in a band, becoming an arts ambassador for the State Department, and getting started in venture capital investing.
“My background doesn’t make sense, but you have to think outside the box,” he said.
Mathias also spoke about the importance of taking each and every opportunity seriously, even when it seems like a dead end. He shared a story about his band playing to an empty bar, with only the bartender’s beagle in an audience. Success, he said, comes after stomaching some embarrassing moments.
Actor and filmmaker Clark Moore ’13, used an entrepreneurial mindset to approach the days when he had no work on the calendar.
“I had to self-propel to each opportunity,” Moore said.
Across the hall, Board Member Erik Anderson ’00 T’07 shared his experience as co-founder, owner and chairman of the New England Free Jacks, a professional rugby team. He spoke with Mike Harrity, Director of Athletics and Recreation for Dartmouth College.
Anderson touched on the importance of having partners, ranging from the other owners in the league to the city of Quincy, Massachusetts, which welcomed the team.
“In sports it’s the same thing as in business: your partners are the most important thing,” he said.
The afternoon brought two sessions, including “Accelerating Research into New Ventures: Lessons learned in moving technology to market.”
There John Connolly, chief scientific officer at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy joined Charles Sullivan, Professor of Engineering at Thayer and Charles Suntan, Professor of Microbiology and Immunotherapy at Geisel School of Medicine. Tammy Heesakker, Senior Business Development and Licensing Manager for Dartmouth College moderated the panel.
“Fundraising your Startup in Uncertain Times: Creative insights into ways to find the resources you need,” covered how to make a venture attractive to investors amid economic uncertainty. Read more about that panel here.
“Deals are happening, but you have to be a little bit patient and scrappy to make sure you’re getting the deals done,” said Panelist Sarah Worden T’20, Senior Associate at Green D Ventures.
The day concluded with the Dartmouth Startup Competition Finals, before moving to a 10 year celebration for DALI lab.