IdeaLab Preparing Entrepreneurs – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

IdeaLab Preparing Entrepreneurs

As a prelude to the 2015 Stu Lieblein ’90 Pitch Contest, the HWS Centennial Center for Leadership (CCL) hosted its fall 2014 HWS IdeaLab, an innovative, six-week program designed to help students kick start their ideas while cultivating their entrepreneurial spirit.

“The HWS IdeaLab is an important component of the CCL’s entrepreneurial leadership student development work,” says Amy Forbes, associate director of CCL. “After the six-week workshop series, we really expect students to be able to structure their concept and start to assemble the idea into an innovation process.”

In addition to workshopping their ideas with their peers, selected IdeaLab applicants met with a core group of faculty, staff and alums to streamline proposals before resubmission, when the IdeaLab’s student selection committee and the CCL staff review each application and determine how the pool of $3,000 is allocated. Students also have access to the Colleges’ vast network of alums and will be able to seek out professional expertise when it comes to marketing, designing and revising their final proposal.

Proposals selected for the IdeaLab’s 2014 program include:

  • Michael Ledyard ’16 and Jake Rayburn ’15 are proposing a water bottle company
  • Connor Whalen ’15 has a plan for a macro-nutrient food company
  • Hannah Pollinger ’15 is proposing an app that identifies buildings using facial recognition technology
  • Caitlin Brown ’17 and Carlyle Klein ’17 are proposing a customized back support tool
  • Joe Sanders ’16 and Chris Poggi ’16 are proposing an online exchange website
  • Justin Pacione ’15 has a plan for a sustainable water system
  • Paige Pierce ’17 is proposing a pop-up clothing shop
  • Rory Burke ’15 has a plan for a bio diesel initiative

“The growth is really exciting to watch,” Forbes says. “Students really start to take ownership over the idea, as well as the details that will make it go. At the same time, we see the student selection committee take ownership over the proposal review and funding allocation process. Their experience in difficult decision-making is also a model for leadership embedded into the IdeaLab.”

This year’s student selection committee elected to fund three ideas. Pierce’s project, called Orchard Outfitters, which was awarded $2,200. Ledyard and Rayburn’s idea, called Whitehackle Water, and Whalen’s restaurant, called Macro Meals, each received $400 respectively. Funds go to directly to further students’ ideas.

At the beginning of the IdeaLab earlier this fall, the past three winners of The Pitch competition — Sara Wroblewski ’13, Andrew King ’14 and Ato Bentsi-Enchill ’17 — joined the IdeaLab participants to offer advice on how best to succeed in the Lab and graduate to The Pitch, an entrepreneurial contest that helps one student each year bring his or her big idea to life.

“I’m really excited for this new group,” Bentsi-Enchill says. “There are a lot of great ideas in here and I think the IdeaLab is the right place for them to think broadly about them and evolve these thoughts into real businesses.”

While both the Pitch and the IdeaLab programs allow for students to “compete” for funding, Forbes says that The Pitch’s “emphasis is on the sustained growth patterns that takes one idea to reality. The IdeaLab is designed to offer a shorter, accelerated experience for students who want to work on their ideas with others. Its focus is on the very early innovation stage.”

But it’s worth noting that the IdeaLab “has served as a great preparatory program for the contest,” Forbes says. “Last year, four IdeaLab students made the second round of The Pitch contest, two were finalists and one student from the IdeaLab was our winner.”

“The IdeaLab was not around while I was going through the Pitch process, but I believe it has been a game changer for participants since its inception,” Wroblewski says. “Student proposals are stronger and more fully developed with each passing year. The Centennial Center for Leadership mirrors that growth by providing more and more opportunities for students to flesh out their ideas and become confident public speakers. I am so excited to be inspired by the new contestants this spring.”

In the photo above, the past winners of the Stu Lieblein ’90 Pitch Contest — Andrew King ’14, Sara Wroblewski ’13 and Ato Bentsi-Enchill ’17 — speak to students interested in the IdeaLab at the Centennial Center for Leadership.