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It's On You: Symposium Shows What it Takes to be an Entrepreneur

The recent "Entrepreneurship the Hampshire Way" symposium sparked conversations and highlighted alumni and student work.

“Don’t wait to be asked to dance. Create the ball,” Hampshire alum Sabrina Hamilton 73F told students at the "Entrepreneurship the Hampshire Way" symposium, hosted last week by the College’s new entrepreneurship program. This proactive approach, Hamilton said, has resulted in amazing experiences over her decades in theater, and can be applied to any interest or career. Hamilton is cofounder and artistic director of KO Festival of Performance, a themed summer festival of original performances, workshops, internships, and residencies in the Pioneer Valley, western Massachusetts.

Alum performers, farmers, food producers, and College staffers took part in the October 22 symposium. The event’s goal, says coordinator Bret Golann 71F, was to spark conversations about the program as “something that supports innovations all around campus.”

The event marked the launch of a three-year pilot for Entrepreneurship Education at Hampshire College, made possible by donations of more than $2 million from parents and alumni. The funds provide support for two faculty positions, the student-run Seed Fund for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, student internships, special lectures, and stipends for alumni entrepreneurs to return to campus to participate with students in classes and workshops. Among the many beneficiaries of that funding is Hampshire student Yasmine El Baggari who received a grant for the development of her new digital platform Voyaj.

In her talk, Sabrina Hamilton encouraged students—especially “artists, who are culturally taught to fear money,” she said—to understand the financial side of all their endeavors.

“Budgeting is truly a part of the artistic visioning process,” she said. “It’s part of the dreaming.”

“Entrepreneurship isn’t just about establishing businesses,” says Golann. “It’s learning how to take your performance on the road, or to take something like the millet thrasher students in the Center for Design made and introduce it to developing countries. There are tons of great ideas out there, and we want to help students put the plans in place that will get them out into the world and connected with funding, mentors, markets, and partners.”

For one of the day’s activities, Hampshire Sustainability Initiative Director Beth Hooker, along with students and staff from the Farm Center, presented a list of crops grown on campus and asked the crowd to pitch them product ideas that would use some or all of the ingredients. Among the ideas were vegan TV dinners, popcorn flavored with garlic and ginger, and premade soup fixings.

“It turned into something everybody jumped in on, and we really had a lot of fun,” says Golann. “But it was also a practical introduction to how you pitch a product.”

David Donnella 07F, a performer and instructor with the Philly Improv Theater, told students, “In terms of entrepreneurship, whenever I’ve done anything, I think about why it’s important to me and why it might be important to someone else.” Sophie Wood 02F, a founder of the performance group The Royal Frog Ballet, said she’s learned to balance a variety of projects that sustain her theatrical career. She encouraged students to take risks, collaborate with their classmates, and be confident.

“It was never my intention to start a business or a theater company,” she told them. “When you walk out the door with your college diploma, it’s on you.”

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