The Entrepreneurship Program at Washington and Lee University will host 31 W&L alumni for its inaugural Entrepreneurship Summit on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9 – 10.
"This will be a weekend when we really celebrate entrepreneurship here by bringing back a group of alumni entrepreneurs, have them engage with each other and with students, share ideas and challenges and also establish a strong and valuable network with each other," said Jeffrey Shay, the Johnson Professor of Entrepreneurship and Leadership at Washington and Lee.
The idea for the summit arose from the Entrepreneurship Advisory Board, which was formed in April 2012 and consists of alumni who judged the Business Plan Competition but wanted to be more engaged.
The alumni represent a span of almost five decades at W&L with participants who graduated in 1967 but also graduates from last year. Their majors include philosophy, biology, European history, business, economics and law. They come from as far away as Texas, New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta and Kentucky. The businesses they have established include online marketing, social media, financial firms, private equity firms, real estate and a company that markets an air purification system.
Shay acknowledged that the summit could have been twice the size since many alumni wanted to attend but had prior commitments. "We sent information to our master list of alumni interested in entrepreneurship and also used LinkedIn," said Shay of the social networking site. "LinkedIn is particularly important since we're in the process of building a network of W&L entrepreneurs. We have 468 people already in the first couple of years, which is pretty amazing for a school the size of W&L."
The summit is designed to provide opportunities for networking, and the schedule begins with a reception on Friday night, followed by interactive panels and mentoring sessions on Saturday. The Venture Club, W&L's student entrepreneurship organization, will sponsor a "pitch" competition for students to pitch their idea for a new business.
Alumni will share their experiences of how they arrived at their present positions, in four panel sessions on managing new ventures, marketing and sales in new ventures, financing new ventures and legal issues for entrepreneurs. "Some people started their businesses right out of school, and some took a different route," explained Shay. "By sharing their experiences, these alumni become more accessible and real to students and make entrepreneurship seem more possible. So I think this will definitely help students make a better connection."
Alumni on the panels have also been asked to share three "pearls of wisdom" each. "These are things they've learned along the way with regard to the topic they're speaking on," said Shay. "The hope is that students will hear maybe 90 pearls of wisdom over the weekend and that some of them will sink in and really help them."
Matt Langan, a 2010 graduate, from Louisville, Ky,.is co-founder and CEO of CadenceMed, and was in the first entrepreneurship class that Shay taught at W&L. His company provides medical practices with a virtual back office that does their patient relationship management and marketing for them. He will discuss "taking the leap" to becoming an entrepreneur. He expects the summit to be "an opportunity for me to help share what I've learned as a recent graduate-turned-entrepreneur with current students who might be interested in pursuing a similar path. If I can help paint a picture of why I took the leap into entrepreneurship and what it has taken for me to survive and succeed—from the mindset that an entrepreneur needs to adopt, to the financial and intellectual resources they'll likely need, and where to get them—then I will consider it a huge win."
Langan will also be on the receiving end of advice when he takes part in one of several mentoring sessions designed for alumni to help other alumni with the entrepreneurial challenges they are facing, with W&L students participating as well.
"I hope that all alumni receiving mentoring will speak more freely in this nice community of W&L alumni and students than they maybe would back in their hometown," said Shay. "It's important that everyone walks away feeling like they've gained something from the weekend. While the more experienced alumni will feel like they've gained through giving back to students and to other alumni, they are also going to meet some people that they didn’t know who could be valuable resources for them in the future. For example, they'll hear from two experts who have much to offer them: Tom Dunlap, from the W&L School of Law, is an expert on intellectual property law and Leslie Croland, the father of W&L junior Harlyn Corland, is an expert on contract law."
Langan is looking forward to the networking opportunities during the summit. "I hear that there will be other W&L alumni from both sides of the table—those who fund and those who might need funding," he said. "It will be fun to meet these folks, hear what they are excited about working on, learn how they've overcome key challenges and, of course, look back on some good W&L memories."