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, April 11, over 150 alumni, parents, students and friends of the college gathered for the 16th annual Jonathan R. Lax ‘71 Conference on Entrepreneurship.
The conference is named after entrepreneur Jonathan Lax ‘71, who began his first company, Haddonfield Research and Manufacturing, when he was just eleven years old in order to seem more official so he could order radioactive material for a science fair. While at Swarthmore, Lax created a mutual fund, which he ran from his room in Hallowell. After graduation, Lax founded The Marketing Audit, a firm devoted to market research and consulting in Philadelphia.
The conference began with a welcome by Gerry Lax ‘74, Jonathan’s brother, Interim President Hungerford and Katie Clark, coordinator for the Center of Innovation and Leadership.
“The definition of ‘entrepreneur’ in the American Heritage dictionary, is a surprisingly simple one, and one quite lacking for our purposes this morning,” said Hungerford. “The dictionary explains that an entrepreneur is someone who organizes, and assumes the risk for a business venture […] but I think we at Swarthmore see entrepreneurship as going beyond this basic understanding. Yes it can include starting and operating a successful business, but it certainly is not limited to that. At Swarthmore entrepreneurship is infused with and informed by a strong set of liberal arts values. When I reflect on Swarthmore students […] I’m encouraged about the future. Many of these students will go on to be entrepreneurs, indeed some of them already are.”
Following the introductions, the SwatTank student innovation competition began. This year’s SwatTank featured “Classic Engineering” by Eduardo Umana Gomez ‘15, “Ryze” by Satyajit Rao ‘15, and “Sabio” by Aldo Frosinini ‘15 and Mackenzie Welch ‘15.
“Classic Engineering” featured ethical and well-made products designed and produced by Gomez. At the conference, Gomez was selling his first product, the “classic NATO,” a classic, durable watch.
“Ryze: Room Service for Inspired Days” combines the recent trend of Airbnb and the technology of Uber to offer a breakfast delivery service for guests staying in Airbnbs who want to have a room-service breakfast.
“Sabio” is an online feedback platform designed to provide opportunities for instant feedback in the office. The tool allows employees to give each other feedback on a day-to-day basis, creating more learning opportunities for employees and prompting employers to hold specific training sessions for employees who need improvement with certain skills.
The judges for the competition were Kevin Datoo ‘97, Chief Operating Officer of Dollar Shave Club, Professor Ellen Magenheim, chair of the Economics Department, and Kenneth DeFontes ‘72, retired president and chief executive officer of Baltimore Gas and Electric. The judges voted “Sabio” the winner of the SwatTank Competition. However, the audience voted “Ryze” the winner of the competition.
Following SwatTank, the participants of the conference attended Networking Lunch and Affinity Group Conversations. The Affinity Group Conversations included topics such as “Women in Entrepreneurship,” “Sustainability: What’s Happening on Campus?,” “Lang Scholars: Social Change Makers,” “Pathways to Entrepreneurship,” and “A Conversation on Careers in BioTech.”
After the Affinity Group Conversations, the participants attended Discussion Groups. These Groups included, “Impact Investing: Hope, Hype and Here to Stay,” “Pathways to Growth,” “Building an Entrepreneurial Mindset,” “The Intersection of Business, Entrepreneurship and the Liberal Arts,” and “Technology and Innovation: Intrapreneurship Across Sectors.”
The final event of the day was SwatTalks, talks made in the style of TED Talks but presented by members of the Swarthmore community on the topic of entrepreneurship.
The first talk was given by Noel Theodosiou ‘94, a strategy consultant. The talk was titled “Entering the World of Your Customer.” In her talk, Theodosiou spoke about the difference between insight and information when it comes to understanding what a customer wants. She urged the audience to go beyond the data of what is known about consumers and to take their perspective.
Julie Abrams P’15, founder and managing director of Impact Investing Analytics and Microfinance Analytics, gave a SwatTalk titled “Social Entrepreneurship for the Base of the Pyramid.” In her talk, Abrams explained what the base of the pyramid is, and the role of social entrepreneurs in helping people at the base. Abrams spoke about some of the challenges and opportunities created by working to serve the billions of low-income and poor people in the world.
Finally, Professor Barry Schwartz presented a SwatTalk “Why We Work,” based on his newest book Why We Work. In his talk, Schwartz spoke about the false assumption that people work because they have to. Schwatz presented recent statistics that demonstrate that people care about more than just their paycheck and suggested ways in which companies could be organized to encourage more fulfilling and productive work.
The 17th annual Jonathan R. Lax ‘71 Conference on Entrepreneurship will take place next April with another round of SwatTank and SwatTalks.