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New student group adds to entrepreneurial spirit on campus, hopes to fund ideas

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Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 29, 2012 07:11

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Jodi Bosin / The Tufts Daily

New group Tufts Venture Fund collaborates with the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society to offer opportunities to students on campus with innovative ideas.

Tufts students and alumni with ideas for new businesses have had a growing range of options over the past few years, enabling them to go so far as to develop iPhone applications and create websites as the basis for their businesses. But a new club seeks to expand this range even further.

Tufts Venture Fund, established earlier this semester by two students interested in venture capital, is the newest addition to the list of options for students looking to transform their ideas into real business plans.

Junior Alexandra Halbeck and senior Eric Peckham first discussed the idea in September.

“It pretty quickly transformed from people who were interested in venture capital and wanted to talk about venture capital ... to ‘Oh my God, maybe we could make this something big,’ to sitting down with [Director of Tufts Gordon Institute’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program] James Barlow,” Halbeck said.

According to Halbeck, Tufts Venture Fund is for students interested in venture capital, but also acts as a resource for students with ideas.

“We want to provide opportunities to students who are interested in venture capitalism or analysis. We need a team of core analysts to be analyzing ventures, as well as people building connections,” Halbeck said. “[We aim to offer] student entrepreneurs the guidance, connections and resources that they might need in order to develop their ideas into a full−fledged business.”

Peckham and Halbeck created the fund not out of frustration with students’ previous options, but rather out of a desire to add to them and give students with more concrete ideas the necessary resources to launch their businesses, according to Halbeck.

“We are working to make connections with local [venture capital] firms in Boston ... we’re working to connect with alumni, we’re working to connect with people on campus,” she said. “We want to bring everybody together so that we can give people with an idea the opportunity and the connections that they need to make it something real.”

The Venture Fund has also been working closely with the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society to help students get their businesses running.

“The Tufts Entrepreneurs Society is kind of the base of the pyramid, where you have as many people as possible involved, and as you go further up, you have people who are physically starting their own companies,” President of the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society Albert Nichols, a senior, said. “[They] need a support group and they need connections, they need networks, they need money, and the Tufts Venture Fund is essentially there to help facilitate all those processes at the top of the pyramid.”

According to Barlow, who also serves as the faculty adviser for Tufts Venture Fund, while a course in the Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies (ELS) program may be beneficial for learning about the technicalities of starting a business, the formal ELS curriculum isn’t for everyone.

“What we’re trying to do here at Tufts is evolve a really supportive ecosystem that supports student innovation, student entrepreneurship,” Barlow said. “[A club caters] to those who don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to do a full course.”

As the group has only been on campus for a few months, Tufts Venture Fund has goals that it cannot achieve right away. For one, they are not currently recognized by the Tufts Community Union, though they are working toward it, Halbeck said.

More importantly, however, they hope to raise an actual fund.

“The money going into the fund would be [through] gift−giving, most likely,” Halbeck said. “We can provide market research, we can provide connections ... and other things that these ventures might need ... Once we have a portfolio of those ventures, we can look at them and say, ‘Okay, you’re ready. Now what do you need?’ and they can say, ‘Money.’”

According to Halbeck, they can then take a look at the need on campus and go from there to see what they can do to make these ventures grow.

With the establishement of the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society two years ago, as well as the development of the ELS program and the new addition of Tufts Venture Fund, Tufts has seen a rising interest in entrepreneurship, specifically with a lean toward active citizenship, according to Barlow.

“A social entrepreneur is really somebody who’s not just looking at doing something entrepreneurial, but has a social positive impact as [part] of what they’re doing,” Barlow said.

Students involved in these social entrepreneurial initiatives on campus, though, look beyond the typical active citizenship niche at Tufts.

“I think in the way that things are framed at Tufts, you hear a lot about active citizenship and giving back to your community,” Nichols said. “I think that the entrepreneurial view of that is different in the sense that you’re not ... going back and kind of giving away your time to go do something and help someone do something, but you’re using a business or using a venture to solve that problem for hundreds and thousands and millions of people.”

The Tufts Venture Fund is hoping to expand this mindset of entrepreneurship to a broader group of students.

“We’re trying to [encourage] more people to recognize themselves as entrepreneurs,” Halbeck said. “We want people to get involved, we want people to start thinking of themselves as creative, intuitive people with natural ingenuity and a lot of great ideas.”

Nichols would also encourage more students to think of their passions and ideas in an entrepreneurial way.

“If people can find value in what you are doing [and] if you are creating value with your education, then you’ve become a successful entrepreneur,” he said.

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