Dartmouth's Entrepreneurial Community Pivots to Face Pandemic

The core principles of flexibility and innovation serve as guides.

Centers and institutes across Dartmouth are exploring ways to continue their public events and maintain community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This story is the third in a series on some of the creative solutions that have emerged.

In the face of the global pandemic, the Dartmouth entrepreneurial community is tapping into its core principles, confronting uncertainty and risk with flexibility and experimentation to not only survive, but to thrive.

"I firmly believe that a moment like this is built for the entrepreneurial thinker and the innovative mind," says Jamie Coughlin, director of the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship. "We're approaching this crisis in that spirit—how can we better and more effectively build up the Dartmouth entrepreneurial community and better connect with all our constituents—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—in this way."

John H. Krehbiel Sr. Professor for Emerging Technologies Eric Fossum, the associate provost for entrepreneurship and technology transfer (and inventor of the CMOS image sensor technology that enables all these video meetings), says this expanding virtual community offers a crucial way to confront the demands of the day.

"These are such unusual times, and a sense of community is needed more than ever," Fossum says. "It is great to see the Magnuson Center and its entrepreneurial program offerings adapt and leverage new opportunities for interaction. I applaud Jamie and his team's efforts to make the rapid pivot to utilizing video communications technology that connects our community in ways that can be even stronger and more diverse than ever before."

Among the remote entrepreneurship sessions underway through Magnuson are "Navigating Your Startup through a crisis," a seven-week seminar for startup entrepreneurs or those exploring a business idea; a Zoom workshop for Dartmouth faculty and researchers on building a business plan; and a weekly session for members of the campus entrepreneurship living-learning community to maintain their connections and meet with recent graduates who are business founders. The living-learning community get-togethers are open to all Dartmouth students.

The advantage of these remote seminars is that Dartmouth's entrepreneurial alumni leaders are sharing insights, teaching seminars, and networking from all over the map, Coughlin says.

"Now it's totally opened up, so we're taking full advantage of the willingness and the ease with which these individuals can participate," he says. "And we're seeing larger audiences than we would have on campus in Hanover."

Andrea Johnson '91 of Palo Alto, Calif., principal of Envelo Properties and a member of the Dartmouth Founders Circle, has been active in Dartmouth's Zoom-based entrepreneurial gatherings.

"It's great to see the Magnuson Center be so proactive in this crisis, with innovative and exciting programs for our entrepreneurs. A hallmark of my Dartmouth experience has always been the give-first approach of our alumni," Johnson says. "It's ironic, but our new online reality has afforded a West Coast alum such as myself even greater access to the center's programming and people."

Additional resources available through the center have also been reimagined and enhanced, including the Wily Initiative Grant to fund remote internships for undergraduates. The center will distribute 20 $2,000 grants for summer term alone, rather than a much smaller number of $4,500 grants offered in past cycles, so that more undergraduates will be able to take advantage of the program. The center also offers Founders Grants of up to $5,000 for the development of Dartmouth-founded ventures, and has set up the Dartmouth Angels Gust Platform, which offers a place for startups and alumni investors to network.

"Holding programming in a virtual setting seemed like it could be a daunting task. On the contrary, the enthusiasm and creativity of the students have made for productive gatherings that brought our organization closer together," says Magnuson Center student leader Matt Kenney '21.

Other entrepreneurial opportunities include the co-curricular Digital Applied Learning and Innovation (DALI) Lab, which has 73 students on the team this term designing and developing websites, mobile apps, virtual reality experiences, and videos for 16 clients currently. Students are working in teams of three to seven students, spread out around the world, from Turkey to Japan, and all four time zones in the continental U.S. They have added a few tools to their collection to simplify remote work and help break down the barriers distance creates, including "a virtual office for remote teams," called Tandem, to quickly jump in and out of "rooms" to chat with others.

Coughlin says the lessons learned in this remote-learning environment will have long-lasting effects on Dartmouth's entrepreneurial ecosystem.

"I am 100 percent convinced that this type of remote programming will continue and be a core offering of the Magnuson Center going forward, regardless of when we return to an on-campus environment. Nothing beats face to face interactions, especially in the world of business, but the opportunity to connect stakeholders across the institution and bring our world class alumni experts to the table, is a silver lining in the face of these uncertain times," Coughlin says.

For more information about the full array of Magnuson programs, seminars, and other resources, email the center at [email protected].

For the latest information on Dartmouth's response to the pandemic visit the COVID-19 website.

William Platt can be reached at [email protected].