How a Personalized Curriculum Drove Successful Entrepreneurship
“No” was the response that Darleane Torres heard repeatedly from schools when she expressed interest in focusing on both engineering and management during her college search.
“They were telling me that I had to choose one or the other because the majors are so rigorous,” Torres says. “But when I asked about combining those fields at Hampshire, I got a much more open response. They said, ‘Yes. How would you like to do it?’”
With the freedom to create her own curriculum, Torres has taken courses at Hampshire but has also been able to explore opportunities within the Five College Consortium. This semester, she’s taking two graduate classes at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, one on leadership and organizational behavior and the second about the business applications of Python, a programming language.
“The graduate students asked me how much I was paying for the class, and I told them it was paid for by my Hampshire tuition,” she says. “They looked at me like I was crazy.”
A Bronx native, Torres says her interest and skill in engineering and technology date back to her high school days at a specialized public school, the Urban Assembly School for Global Commerce, located in East Harlem.
“There was an after school program where we designed and built with Legos, and that led to my wanting to build robotics,” Torres says.
She launched a robotics team and got in touch with local engineers for guidance.
“I was so interested that I did whatever I could to learn,” she says. “I talked to anyone and everyone who had experience in engineering.”
When Torres started as a Div I student at Hampshire, she already embodied the spirit of the College. She had the drive to conceive and execute her own projects and the resourcefulness to enlist the guidance she needed.
During her Div I year, she started her own business, Painter Printer, developing robot technology to paint houses as well or better than professional painters — and to do so more efficiently. “A robot would be able to do things like scan rooms and paint around windows, which take a lot of time,” she says.
When I was applying and talking about my goals and what I wanted to study, Hampshire was the one school to tell me ‘Yes.’
The seed for the project began with a high school friend, Joseph Mendoza, who conceived the idea. In January 2018, just after her first semester at Hampshire, he called her to discuss working on a potential project together.
“He had the idea, and I had the experience from high school internships of working with small businesses and helping them to scale and grow,” Torres says. “I had input into the design process. I created an executive summary of the project, a business model, and a financial model.”
During the spring 2018 semester, she worked on Painter Printer in her dorm room. She aimed not only to develop to the fledging enterprise but also to create the documents she might need to apply for a grant to get start-up funds.
Her vision was prescient. Last spring, she entered Painter Printer into Smith College’s Draper Competition, which grants development money to women entrepreneurs.
The competition was founded seven years ago by Smith alumna Melissa Parker Draper and her husband, venture capitalist Tim Draper, who wanted to even the playing field for female entrepreneurs who wanted to launch a start-up. The competition has grown into a highly regarded event and, this year 75 female-founded start-ups from more than 50 schools across the country participated.
Torres and Mendoza placed third, winning $5,000 in the product category. This was the team’s second year participating in the competition. In 2018, they won a $500 prize for Painter Printer and spent that summer growing the project.
“We’re allocating the money toward prototyping,” Torres says.
This semester she’s doing market research for Hampshire’s Admissions Office with the support of Hampshire’s entrepreneurship program. She’s also interested in starting an on-campus business consulting group.
Torres will use her Div III project to create “milestones and outlines of what needs to be done to create a start-up,” she says.
Her goal next semester is to do an independent study on consulting and help business entrepreneurs in the Pioneer Valley. Eventually, she’d like to enroll in an MBA program.
“Hampshire is a place that’s open to many possibilities,” she said. “When I was applying and talking about my goals and what I wanted to study, Hampshire was the one school to tell me ‘Yes.’”