The Foundry Isn’t for Forging Steel

It's for forging Awesome.

I thought I would take this opportunity to tell my devoted readers about The Foundry @ Olin College.

To this end, my fellow Foundry members and I will be hosting an open house for candidates and students alike from 2 to 4 pm tomorrow, Friday March 2nd. If you're coming to CW as a candidate, parent, sibling, friend, current student or passerby, follow the crowd to 1795 Great Plains Ave to tour our space and meet our people.

What is the Foundry? Frankly, it's the sort of awesome opportunity that prospective students should hear about. But more importantly, I increasingly find that tons of current Oliners don't actually have a clue what the Foundry is about, what goes on there, or why this "Entrepreneurship" thing they keep hearing about should mean any more to them than a corner on some obscurely portrayed "Olin Triangle."

The Legendary Olin Triangle

The Olin Triangle: Symbolic representation of the triple threat (and a half) of Olin academia.

Some students maintain that an equilateral representation does not accurately show its proportionality. Personally, I think a more comprehensive model would look more like one of those obnoxious N-gons from middle school geometry. So we'll stick with the triangle.

Note the left flank of the triangle. Its name is "Entrepreneurship." Frankly, this is a clumsy word which, considering its prevalence at Olin deserves to be phased out of common usage. Linguistic evolution has started along this path @ Olin by use of the abbreviation E! (Pronounced "Ee bang"). I personally use it in writing interchangeably with "entrepreneurship" and "entrepreneur." So expect this abbreviation throughout this post.

So E! is ~1/3 of what Olin's all about. Everyone takes at least one required E! course, called FBE (Foundations of Business and E!). Everyone is given the choice of doing either a bunch of AHS (Arts/Humanities/Sciences) courses that end in a big project (called a Capstone), OR taking a bunch of E! courses @ Olin and/or Babson and ending with a big E! flavored businessy type Capstone project in the vicinity of their senior year.

That's the official word. But I would venture to guess that less than 1/2 of Olin students do an E! Capstone. If anyone has the numbers, please post them for our benefit. The Foundry is the place where, regardless of the entire E! Capstone and coursework trajectory, students can take their business-related ideas and run with them. Here are the quick facts:

  • The Foundry is located @ Edison House, 1795 Great Plains Ave, a large house a 5 minute walk from campus which housed the original Olin College faculty offices before the campus was constructed.
  • The Foundry provides students @ Olin with office space, resources (read "money"), and advisors to help them with their sweet projects.
  • The Foundry is completely full with student E! ventures for the first time... Projects described below.
  • The Foundry also collaborates with the Babson Hatchery, a business incubator project which involves undergrads and MBA students as well as top notch E! faculty form Babson.
  • The Foundry connects students with a community @ Olin and Babson which motivates amazing E! undertakings- these are some seriously energetic and passionate people, even by Olin standards. Starting a company or developing a commercial product is a pretty huge undertaking- the Foundry is filled with people who like the sound of that statement.

Here's the process. Any student or team of students can apply to the Foundry program at the beginning of a term (spring, fall, or new summer terms). The Foundry advisory board, made up of Olin E! faculty and the Foundry's student manager, evaluates businesses based on their idea, commitment, etc and provides the aforementioned resources to worthy projects. You meet monthly with advisors from the Babson Hatchery (who are excellent, by the way) and everything else is up to you. The advisors are at your disposals to take advantage of to a greater extent if you need it. The space is there waiting, calling to you to make that walk.

Also, this summer the Foundry is starting a summer program which will allow students who are so inclined to remain @ Olin in free housing to work on their projects as much as they desire over the summer. This will include the living arrangements in an Olin dorm, creating a sort of E-Suite for 9-10 weeks in the summer.

That's how the Foundry works. What is the Foundry about? What is business about? I don't want to be a sleazy rich corporate businessperson. Why should I care about E! ?

Here's my personal take on this all important line of questions, asked of me by me in the past year. This whole idea of E! is about taking ideas and getting them into the world. I want to make positive change in the world. Business is a powerful method of instilling that change. (More on this idea in the excellent book The Monk and the Riddle, by Randy Komisar) E! addresses the huge piece of the process which takes ideas to impact. Say you've got an awesome product. Maybe it's going to be entertaining. Maybe it's going to save lives. Maybe it's going to help stop climate change. So what? Without a means of distributing that product, of getting it into the hearts, minds, and hands of the people it will benefit, it does nothing. The Foundry is about doing something. It's about doing something big, and daring, and difficult- that's E! That's Olin.

Foundry workers.

Foundry dudes hard at work. Notice the conveniently (yet unintentionally) placed Olin gear, and technical-looking machinery in the background.

I'm in a Foundry business. It's called Bluestem Energy. Our team is dedicating huge amounts of time and effort in building a company that will make distributed renewable energy. Renewable and clean energy. Our founding principle is that economic and environmental benefits can and must go hand in hand. Our end is sustainable clean energy. Our means is starting a company to deliver this service to people who are paying more and more for energy that spews carbon and poisons into the air at an alarming rate.

I'm not on this project to get rich. I'm on this project because I believe in what we're doing. I'm on this project because what Bluestem will put into the world is worth all my efforts to get it there. And the past 6 months with the startup have been an incredibly rewarding learning experience. The next 6 months promise to be even more so. Here's a bit on my take on how I view business and currency. The basic unit of exchange of value is currency, and certainly a business must think very carefully about how to acquire and use funds. Money is representative of success and a tool to obtain the ends of the company. Money is not itself an ultimate goal or source of deeper meaning- its just money. Ideas like socially responsible business center around a concept of placing value in more than money- preventing disease, increasing quality of life, creating community, enhancing the health of natural systems; these are all examples of valuable effects which the activities of companies like those in the Foundry have on the world. I acknowledge that there is more to be accomplished in life than the accumulation of wealth. Indeed, wealth in and of itself has not the inherent value of life or happiness. It may be a prerequisite of health or happiness to some extent (a question very much open to debate) but does not at all ensure them. This is one element of the somewhat unconventional approach to business shared by some of us in the Foundry.

Other current Foundry businesses are tackling bold and worthy projects in many different areas. Check out the more complete description of current members of the Olin Foundry. These projects include:

  • Sonicfoam, LLC: A new method of manufacturing surfboard foam without any toxic chemicals
  • Minder Binder: A project management web application for sharing team knowledge
  • Radent Networks: Wireless technology for transportation
  • TB Tester: An automated tuberculosis testing device
  • Xobl: An original all-natural beverage
  • Idea Tree: A student design firm which services non-profits and socially responsible companies
  • Recipe Tango: A new paradigm for a cooking website
  • Bluestem Energy: (This one's me!) Waste vegetable oil renewable energy.

I digress. I hope you keep in touch with the exciting goings-on in the Foundry @ 1795 and seek your own means of having impact on the world around you.

Come by the Open House Friday 3/2 to meet the passionate Foundry members and hear more about their undertakings. If you're coming to Candidate's Weekend, you can find me on the Olin Center mezzanine enticing others to take the walk to see what we're all about down at the Foundry.

"Do not wait to strike until the iron is hot.

Make the iron hot by striking."

-Yeats

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