The 17th annual Jonathan R. Lax Conference on Entrepreneurship was held this past Saturday. The event brought many alumni, guest speakers, and current students to discuss entrepreneurship and hear the presentations of students in Swattank. The conference was started to honor Lax and to instigate discussions about entrepreneurial ventures. The conference is funded by the Jonathan R. Lax Fund.
Lax created a company when he was in high school called Haddonfield Research and Manufacturing Co. He continued his entrepreneurial ventures through his time at Swarthmore, creating a mutual fund and later establishing The Marketing Audit, a marketing research and consulting firm in Philadelphia.
The conference was organized by a planning committee with members from alumni relations, career services, the events office, the Center for Innovation and Leadership as well as two faculty members, Jennifer Magee and Denise Crossan. The committee met last August to discuss the overall layout of the events as well as the content/material topics.
Speakers at the conference included Glenys Thornton, CEO of a nonprofit think-tank in London called the Young Foundation, Director of Places and International Affairs at The Young Foundation Gorka Espiau, Director of Social Innovation, Research and Development at Mondragon Engineering and Business Solutions Ibon Zugasti, and former President of Spain’s Basque Autonomous Community Juan José Ibarretxe.
Swattank is a business planning competition for swarthmore students to create business ideas and work with various mentors and alumni. The finale of the competition is a presentation to alumni at the Lax conference to determine which team presents the best idea. The planning committee decided to Incorporate Swattank with the Lax competition.
Director of Alumni Relations Lisa Lee noted, “Because Swattank is so congruent with the Lax conference it made good sense that we thought to incorporate them together.”
According to Lee, incorporating student projects into the realm of professional speaker presentations from different areas of the business world facilitated an even stronger discussion.
Lee commented, “We get to show off our students and their creativity to the alumns and vice versa we get to expose the students to alumns from a wide variety of fields.”
Six teams originally submitted business proposals this year and three of these six were selected to progress into the finals to present at the Lax conference.
One of the Swattank participants Bolutife Fakoya ’17, part of team YenAra, noted the intensity of the presentation at the conference, but also took away a very positive experience.
“My partner [Sedinam Worlanyo ’17] and I have been practicing our presentation for a while now but I was still struck by how daunting the actual presentation was. As a team, we encourage each other and build off of each other’s strengths and skills and I think that showed through in our presentation,” he commented
Rida Hassan ’18 and Shruti Pal ’18 were a part of team AlumGo. Their team’s idea was an online platform for students and alumni of a university or college to list and find travel related services such as accommodation, personalized travel itineraries, meals, guides, and language assistance. Pal described her experience working to perfect the team’s ideas and refine any necessary part of the presentation.
“We would all be huddled up in the media center until 4 a.m. trying to perfect our PowerPoint, or refine our report,” said Pal, “We organized meetings with countless people, trying to learn as much as we could about how a business works and what challenges we may be faced with.”
Hassan said, “Although we got 2nd place, the response we received from the judges and alumni was very positive.”
Many members came away with a positive experience and felt that the events and content were put together well.
“It was an incredible experience. We had the opportunity to share an idea we spent months refining with a panel of unbelievably accomplished judges and a crowd full of curious alumni,” commented Pal.