Networking Event Energizes Swarthmore Entrepreneurs

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Saturday afternoon, a few dozen students, parents, and alumni gathered in the Science Center courtyard for the inaugural Garnet Weekend Business Networking Reception, run by Alumni Relations. For about an hour, participants snacked on refreshments while chatting in clusters, exchanging stories, advice, and plans for the future.

Since the now two-year-old Garnet Weekend brings both alumni and parents to campus, it provides a unique opportunity for Swat networking. According to Lisa Lee ’81, the director of Alumni Relations, the event was intended to provide a space “where we can get all three of these groups together.” There are other networking-type events run periodically throughout the year by Career Services, and Alumni Weekend always includes a networking meet-up, but the new Garnet Weekend reception finally gave all the groups a chance to converge.

Says Ms. Lee, “I think it went well. I was really pleased with the number of students who turned out [and] I thought there were some really good conversations going on.” Next year, though, she hopes more parents and alumni will come to meet the demand from students. It was also suggested that the event might be moved indoors in the future, potentially further increasing attendance.

Among the alumni present was David Burgy, ’10, a second-year graduate student at Rutgers’ Planning and Public Policy school who had even brought a handful of business cards. Asked about why he chose to attend graduate school immediately after Swat, Burgy explained that he “couldn’t wait another year” without learning everything he could about urban planning. Not everyone had had the same experience with higher education, however. One parent had a small crowd fascinated with his personal history as an investment banker who worked his way up slowly after dropping out of college.

Another parent at the event, Philip Tinsley, talked about his job as president of The Warehouse, a supply-chain management and logistics firm. “I’ve got a very entrepreneurial spirit,” said Tinsley, “and I work a lot with entrepreneurs… a majority of the companies we work with are [run by] entrepreneurs, looking to expand in new markets, with new ideas. So I felt my input might be useful.”

Several students from Entrepeneurship Club were very interested in hearing him speak about the services his firm provides and how it’s run. After all, the Entrepreneurship Club had come to pitch a product idea and seek advice, and Tinsley’s business is involved with the marketing and delivery of wildly varied products just like the one they plan to create. Tinsley thought that the club’s business idea had a lot of commercial value and could do very well. “Whatever [Swatties] apply themselves to,” he said, “they’ll probably be successful at. As long as they’ve got the passion and the will to follow-through and as long as they pick something they’ll enjoy, I think they’ll succeed.”

“These days it’s all about networking,” added Tinsley, who happily handed out his business cards. Tinsley mentioned that many businessmen like himself are also on LinkedIn, where people can create an extended social network of contacts. It seemed a given that the students he met on Saturday would soon look him up on the site. “One of these chaps I talk to now, maybe in five or six years they could be in serious need of logistical services,” he suggested with a laugh.

Entrepreneurship Club co-president Vishaal Chhabria ’13 was pleased with the event. “I think it was very productive, we learned a lot, and we built some solid connections that I think we can actually use in the future,” he said. He believes that as a student interested in business, chatting with many different alums can help him learn about the various aspects of a business and help him decide what he might personally be interested in. The club’s members hoped to begin creating a small network of advisers who could mentor them in the future. “I think this type of event has a lot of appeal to people in Entrepreneurship Club, “ he added.

Networking seemed to pique the interest of some students who didn’t necessarily see themselves as future businessmen, as well. Kyle Krainock ’13, a pre-med student who plans to work in medicine, said that although he didn’t go to this particular event, he thinks networking can be a valuable part of a liberal arts education. “Business are a huge part of our lives,” he said. “Just by meeting with alums and getting advice about how to run a business helps you have this new mindset and this new outlook on things. I feel like with a liberal arts education you want a little knowledge about everything.”

Alumni Relations Director Lee suggested students look to some of their other programs as well as those hosted by Career Services in order to find any opportunity to interact with alumni. This long list includes an upcoming Wall Street visit (not related to #OccupyWallStreet visits) and the Externship program, which is currently still taking students for the Winter Break program. These events are a way of “demonstrating to students that alums are willing and interested in talking to them and showing that there are people with experiences that would be valuable to find out about.”

The value of holding these events on campus before students step out into the wide world is that “it’s intimidating to reach out to strangers, sometimes,” she said. “This way we’ve put a face on it, so that you can see the alums’ energy and enthusiasm.”

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