Oberlin Blogs

An Intro to Entrepreneurship at Oberlin

January 7, 2015

Ty Diringer ’14

Entrepreneurship at Oberlin has always seemed to be a bit of a paradox, but I suppose that depends on how you define “entrepreneur.” As a word that describes money-centric capitalists, yes, entrepreneurship has always been a little antithetical to Oberlin’s values. As a skillset and state of mind, however, it defines nearly everything that makes Oberlin what it's proud to be today. From the Presbyterian missionaries’ ideal of a utopian institution, to the Immortal Woodshed that brought aluminum to public consumption, to students’ varied accomplishments today, Oberlin has been constantly pushing boundaries and taking risks—two of the defining traits of entrepreneurs.

I currently work as Oberlin’s Entrepreneurship Fellow, helping run our two entrepreneurship programs: Creativity & Leadership (C&L) and LaunchU. C&L is Oberlin’s internal entrepreneurship program, focused on students. It rests on three legs:

  • We offer small grants to students to start a venture, explore an idea, or run experiments. The amount of capital is small ($1,500), so we expect students to generally use it to conduct tests or undertake customer research, but for some it’s enough to really launch an idea. We also provide CIGSIE grants to Conservatory students over winter term and summer internship stipends.
  • We offer a number of classes in collaboration with other departments. There’s a semesterly Entrepreneurship 100 class, finance classes (business and personal), and other assorted classes, including one great Arts Management course, taught by Eric Steggall.
  • Finally, we hold events and workshops. This semester we held awards ceremonies, sponsored a few speakers, and held a Local Food Entrepreneurs Showcase. Next semester we plan to run a speaker series on what it means to explore and challenge your passions.

LaunchU is the Oberlin community of entrepreneurs. There are countless “Oberlineurs” out there, and through LaunchU we are working to bring them together. We’ve discovered some Oberlinians have become incredible entrepreneurs, and have already helped cultivate important connections. Concretely, in addition to holding events around the country (you’re invited!), we run a January venture incubator for the Oberlin family. It’s composed of three weeks of working on an idea (arts organizations, food truck, you name it) and then pitching the idea for funding. It’s a distinctly Oberlin event, with countless experiences for growth fueled by dozens of experts.

Which brings us back to me. Since I’m not the expert, my role is a little more hands-on. I coordinate much of our on-campus programming, guide and direct students working on ventures, and do whatever else benefits Oberlin entrepreneurs. I graduated from Oberlin last year, after starting a couple non-profits and getting to the point of launch with a tech startup. I enjoy dogs, moonlit walks, and forward motion. Have questions about what it means to start an entity at Oberlin? Want advice on getting started? Let’s talk.

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