Less than a year old, Hamilton Ventures — an independent association supporting Hamiltonians and others closely connected to the College who are involved in new enterprises — has already made a dramatic mark on the entrepreneurial landscape, hosting a recent symposium at the United Nations, honoring a series of Hamilton and Kirkland graduates for innovation and leadership, and helping hundreds of alumni to navigate a challenging financial era.
The brainchild of Chris Daniels '85, a founder and chief financial officer of Paramount International Bank, Hamilton Ventures brings together alumni with a common interest in venture finance and entrepreneurship — but that is only if you want the short description.
In reality, Hamilton Ventures does much more. It serves as an informal social networking opportunity among Hamilton alumni with common interests; educates those wanting to learn more about entrepreneurship and venture finance; locates and suggests startups and ventures to alumni interested in funding new companies; and — one of the most important facets of entrepreneurship — serves as a place for alumni entrepreneurs to vet their ideas to experienced leaders and investors in a friendly environment. With a wide range of professional backgrounds and careers represented, members can be at any stage of their career or education, with any amount of experience.
Already building on Hamilton Ventures, Daniels also has created Ivy Ventures, a larger network that allows alumni network associations from a growing number of peer colleges such as Middlebury, Wellesley and others to share resources and opportunities.
Though the College has long had a tradition of informal networking, Daniels "found the process very inefficient" and designed Hamilton Ventures to be "beneficial for both alumni and the College" by streamlining the process. Since "the purpose of the College is not to promote business-related interaction specifically, it seemed to me there was a need for a specific organization to bring together alumni who have this particular common interest," Daniels says.
Alumni such as Scott Allocco '82, president and a founder of BioMarker Strategies, have been thrilled to learn about Hamilton Ventures. "In the current market environment, the issue of identifying high-net-worth individuals, otherwise known as 'angel investors,' is a fundamental element of a company's startup strategy," Allocco says. "The Hamilton network has always been a valuable one to my career advancement, so when I saw this Hamilton Ventures investment networking opportunity, I thought it was a brilliant idea and I should take advantage of it."
BioMarker Strategies, which also employs Adam Schayowitz '03 as director of research and development, is a five-person company that is designing and marketing a new tumor-cell testing system to develop a personalized approach to cancer treatment.
Hamilton Ventures also serves as a vehicle to recognize successful alumni entrepreneurs in various fields — those working for nonprofit and for-profit companies, emerging entrepreneurs, Kirkland alumnae leaders and international entrepreneurs. At the U.N. symposium in February, five alumni were honored. Jennifer Morris K'72, one of the five, received her leadership award for her role as the head of LocalWatt Solutions, LLC, an innovative sustainable electric-energy startup.
"I view it as an honor and a kind of way to help Hamilton Ventures get some visibility and help Kirkland College be visible and be remembered as well," she says. "It was lovely."
Other alumni honorees included Blake Darcy '78, an online-commerce pioneer who gave the keynote address, Entrepreneur of the Year; Jack Selby '96, managing director of Clarium Capital, Emerging Entrepreneur; Donald "Skip" Conover '68, chairman of Bhavana Developers, International Entrepreneur; and Gretchen Morrison Grad '85, founder of the nonprofit Hands of Peace, Social Entrepreneur.
With so many alumni in the field of entrepreneurship, Daniels and the panel of judges had difficulty choosing the winners of the awards for Hamilton Ventures' inaugural year. "I think, if nothing else, Hamilton Ventures has shown how active Hamilton alumni really are in entrepreneurship and in establishing new ventures and operating businesses," he says. And that is probably because of the liberal arts education earned at Hamilton.
"Hamilton is great in that it teaches you how to think, not what to think," Daniels says. "You gain the benefit of seeing many disciplines, you learn along the way how to find the information that you want, and you also learn that you gain more from being self-directed than you do from having information provided to you.
"Essentially, that's what an entrepreneur does."
For more on Hamilton Ventures and the recent United Nations symposium, go to www.venturesymposium.com
— By Phillip J. Hoying '09