Reviving the Spirit of E! & an Existential Crisis

greenhorn.pngThe Greenhorn Summit, hosted by Greenhorn Connect, was Boston's first student-run Entrepreneurship conference. Between presentations, break-out sessions, a mini-career fair, and the obvious networking opportunities, the event was an incredible experience. The event also prodded me to think more about E!, Olin's curriculum, and the purpose of education.
I took a lot of notes during the Summit, thinking I would post a quick-summary of them all. They're interesting - "Every entrepreneur wants another entrepreneur's business model", "don't read tech. blogs", "be a super-hero at one thing and decent at everything else" - but like all tips, tricks, and tidbits of advice, they are all dependent on context and interpretation. So here are the 4 (and a bit) interpretations and reactions I took away from the entire Summit.

  1. Olin actually teaches a lot about Entrepreneurship.

    If you haven't heard, there's a growing concern amongst the Olin community that E! at Olin is dead. The Foundry is mostly empty, there are hardly any ventures being started by students, and the E! curriculum is undergoing a major re-evaluation. But listening to the speakers and panelists at Greenhorn, Olin seems to touch on a lot of things that define entrepreneurs. Rob May, CEO of Backupify, claims that "The number one trait of entrepreneurs is passion, but the number one skill is to dive in and learn quickly". Passion and learning-on-the-fly. Where have I heard those before

  2. It's not what you know, but who you know.

    This was a fact already known to me, but Greenhorn was also the first E! conference I had ever been to. It seemed like everyone got started by knowing someone, even if that connection started as a hopeful email asking for help. Relevant coursework and cool projects can help make a case for you, but only if you have someone to show them to.

  3. "Projects serve as context for conversation"

    This was my favorite quote from the entire Summit. Working on projects - whether they be for class, for a hobby, or for a friend - is one of the most important things you can do. They build your skills, hone your passions, but also serve as evidence of you as a person. Being able to go up to someone and say "here is something I'm working on, let me show it to you - I'd love to hear you thoughts" is so much more powerful than "Hi, I need a job". 

  4. School is not enough.

    Perhaps this reaction is due partly to the way my coursework has been going recently, but it seems increasingly apparent to me that school is not enough - not even close - to prepare you for the real world or open opportunities to the things you want. Or rather, a single school's curriculum is not enough to meet all of your demands, so it is important to recognize what skills and knowledge you need or want to acquire and make time to learn them. This is where somewhere like Olin both fails and succeeds. Our small size means there are no product design, graphic design, or industrial design courses (i.e. the courses I most want to take these days), but with programs like Passionate Pursuits or Independent Studies, I can find a way of dealing with our curricular deficiencies.

I still don't consider myself an entrepreneur - I don't have that single, over-bearing vision of where my life is going or the willingness to put everything on hold for one project - but Greenhorn made me realize that E! is still very much the field for me. I might not have what it takes to start something right now, but the beauty of the start-up world is being able to find and craft a space that lets me do what I want to do. It's a bittersweet revelation - I definitely have a better sense of what I need to do with my remaining time at Olin, but it also makes me wish that Olin's connection to E! was stronger. Unlike some of my peers, I don't view school and E! as mutually exclusive - classes like Real Products / Real Markets make that obvious - but it also seems far harder than developing a strong design curriculum or even re-thinking the way engineering courses are taught.

A few weeks ago during Representing Olin, we were joking about re-naming the school from "Olin College of Engineering" to "Olin College of Innovation". We are all quite jaded with regards to the usage of "innovation" - it's a term with far too much usage and far too little definition to be very meaningful - but the more time I spend in the world, the less I feel like an "engineer" and more like.....something else, an occupation without a description, something that combines the left and right sides of the brain in some bizarre mix of form and function, empathy and marketing, mastery and incompetence, direction and flexibility. 
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