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W&L Hosts Second Annual Entrepreneurship Summit

Washington and Lee University’s second annual Entrepreneurship Summit will bring together alumni, students and faculty from all corners of the University to exchange ideas, share knowledge and establish valuable connections for present and future entrepreneurial endeavors during the two-day event on Oct. 18-19.

More than 50 W&L alumni representing 22 majors and 120 W&L students representing 32 majors are registered for the event, sponsored by the J. Lawrence Connolly Entrepreneurship Center.

“This event illustrates the pervasive nature of entrepreneurship across the W&L community and creates a natural bridge between students and faculty in the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics, and the College,” said Jeffrey Shay, Johnson Professor of Entrepreneurship and Leadership at W&L and summit organizer.

One reason for the summit’s popularity is that faculty across campus have been encouraging students to attend, even if they have not yet had coursework in entrepreneurship.

For instance, Joshua Stough, assistant professor of computer science, says that students majoring in his department can benefit from seeing the applicability of computer science outside the classroom.

“Most of the ventures to be presented are critically dependent on computer technology and therefore on the people who understand that technology,” said Stough. “In encouraging my Introduction to Computer Science students to attend the summit I hope more of them decide to be those people who understand the technology.”

Alexander Baca, a senior majoring in computer science and chemical engineering, will be attending as an aspiring technical entrepreneur. “I want to help create, nurture and inspire companies and communities of engineers to discover and develop new products,” Baca said. “There are many marvelous things that can be realized by applying the combination of computer science and chemical engineering. For example, using chemical engineering, I could bridge the gap between data analytics and medicine to foster discoveries in biotech.”

Azmain Amin, a first-year planning to major in biochemistry, has attended a national business competition in his native Bangladesh as well as a competition with participants from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Turkey. He would like to pursue entrepreneurship in biology, focusing on the need in Bangladesh for a portable method of checking the quality of food. “Almost everything we eat back home is contaminated with something harmful,” he said. “I want to figure out a way for people to check for themselves whether the food they eat is safe or not.”

Andrew Hess, adjunct associate professor of business administration, teaches a class on social entrepreneurship that examines how organizations and individuals have used a market-based approach to solving social issues. He explained that a critical component of this approach is to understand the strategy, finance, marketing and leadership of new ventures and entrepreneurs. “The summit will comprise a number of speakers and panels that will help my students understand the entrepreneurial process, including how to find funding, analyze a business plan and network with like-minded individuals,” he said.

First-year student Kyle Turpin will bring his interest in medical innovation, specifically preventative medicine, to the summit. “Eastern medicine very much focuses on this aspect of health,” he said, “whereas Western medicine is more reactive in the way it deals with medical problems. I’m hoping to be able to talk to members of both the medical community and the international business community to see the different paths I might tread to realize my end goal of combining medicine and culture.”

Sarah Helms, a sophomore French major, said she doesn’t have a specific goal for the summit but hopes to gain a foundational knowledge and thoughts about entrepreneurship. “It will open up interesting conversations with peers who have studied business and entrepreneurship,” she said. “I am pretty certain there is an overlap between entrepreneurship and my interests. In brief, the benefit of attending is learning.”

Friday’s program includes alumni presentations and interactive panel sessions for students and alumni launching new ventures on important topics such as bootstrapping, launching technology ventures, venture capital and angel funding, leveraging social media, protecting intellectual property and strategic models to enhance success.

Saturday morning begins with alumni and student entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas to experienced alumni entrepreneurs. Saturday afternoon includes discussions on angel networks and building the W&L entrepreneur network and concludes with the opportunity for alumni to engage with students currently writing business plans.

The summit is open to W&L alumni, students, faculty and parents. Details can be found at http://entrepreneurship.wlu.edu/entrepreneurship-summit/