This past weekend, Hamilton College held a series of events to kick off its spring social entrepreneurship programming. The Levitt Center – in conjunction with the Career Center and the COOP – sponsored various talks and information sessions to get students thinking about social innovation.
Specifically, the weekend was intended to spur discussion about Hamilton College’s 3rd annual Pitch Competition, which will be held the weekend of April 4-7. This event allows students and alumni to devise a business idea, pitch it to an experienced panel of judges, and potentially win financial and advisory support. In addition to traditional business ideas, the Pitch Competition hopes to attract more proposals with a social mission this year.
To help students explore their options and refine their pitch ideas, Hamilton hosted a diverse group of speakers. The weekend began with a keynote speech by Chuck Harris P’13, portfolio manager and director of capital aggregation at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. Harris, who brings a wealth of knowledge from the financial and non-profit sectors, provided valuable insights into both industries. He claimed that in order to successfully pitch an idea, you need the following: a front-loaded structure that emphasizes your main points early and often; the ability to build trust and relationships; a well-articulated description about how your angle is superior to other businesses; and the right mix of perspectives within your organization. The following day, Harris met with students one-on-one to discuss business ideas, career goals and general questions.
Mark Kasdorf ’06, the founder of the Pitch Competition, presented a talk titled “Customer Validation: Do people want what you’re building?” via video-streaming to students on Saturday morning. In addition to detailing his activities in founding four companies since his graduation, Kasdorf spoke about how students might approach the pitch competition. In particular he stressed that many entrepreneurs were successful “not because they wanted to found a company, but rather because they had a problem that needed solving... and no one else was solving it.”
Last year’s Pitch Competition winners, Kevin Bourque ’05 and Joshua Kunkel ’04, echoed many of Harris’s points about making a successful pitch. Bourque and Kunkel claimed that winning last year’s competition gave them the confidence to push forward with their business concept, a company called Outeru. The Pitch Competition provided them with critical support, counseling, and legal fees that have enabled their company to grow over the past year.
During their Saturday presentation, they walked students through the development process, highlighted personal and organization setbacks, and advised the audience on how to deal with adversity. Ultimately, they emphasized the importance of being passionate about your product and drawing the support of others who have additional expertise. Bourque said, “Be aware of what you don’t know how to do and inspire [others] to help.” Starting a business should be a team endeavor that draws on the diverse talents of many. This presentation showed Hamilton students firsthand how the Pitch Competition can serve as a launching pad for their business ideas.
Other weekend events included a social entrepreneurship workshop at Colgate with Jennifer Lopez from Stanford University and individual meetings with Bourque and Kunkel. Students who have inquiries regarding the Pitch Competition, social entrepreneurship, or other programming should contact the Levitt Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.