Happy Holidays! We hope this message finds you staying healthy and doing well. This is Chuck Isgar ‘20.5 and Grace Parker ‘21, your proud co-presidents of Brown’s Entrepreneurship Program (EP) from this past year. It seems out of all years, this is a year to reflect on what makes us grateful. This year, we were honored to lead Brown’s Entrepreneurship Program, and we are so thankful for the experiences and people we have met along the way. It is hard to put into words the commitment and enthusiasm that our 75 members have brought to the club despite the circumstances, and we would like to use this blog post as a way to reflect on our time leading EP and an outlook toward the amazing things ahead.
We have watched our members adapt and grow into a community that makes us extremely proud. During one of our many strategic planning conversations, we set out a goal: to turn EP into a family. Specifically, we wanted each member of EP to leave every weekly Sunday meeting feeling inspired and ideally feeling like they had begun a new friendship. We knew that getting to this point would require commitment from the team leads of EP’s 11 teams and from our 75 members. To this end, last January we brainstormed with the team leads and had each of them write down their goals for the year. By the end of the meeting, the walls of the Liz Lange Lecture Hall in the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship were covered with poster boards with neon-colored writing, expressing what each team wanted to accomplish. Our journey of leading EP had begun.
With a focus on increasing the transparency of EP, we jump-started the semester with a very successful in-person info session where prospective applicants to EP had the opportunity to meet the team leads and immerse themselves into the Brown entrepreneurial scene. We saw 50+ students attend this info session, and we continued the info session during the application process in September, albeit virtually. EP now has 75 hardworking, inspiring, and determined members.
Aligned with our goal of making sure the members of EP were learning something new at every EP meeting, we coordinated various guest speakers to join our group. Our first guest speakers were Nick Martell ‘11 and Jack Kramer from Robinhood Snacks. They inspired and captivated EP, and we put the Zoom Room functionality in the Nelson Center to work. Little did we know how important Zoom would soon become. Before Brown transitioned to a fully virtual format due to COVID-19, we held the Women’s Empowerment Conference (WE) conference which would be our very last in-person event. It was a special event that featured a variety of inspiring speakers, a pitch competition, networking, and more.
EP Makes It Happen, Even During a Pandemic
Soon after the WE Conference, we learned of Brown’s transition to a virtual format. With an understanding that we would be leading our club through a global pandemic, we worked quickly to cancel all in-person events for the remainder of the semester, and most importantly, to be a resource for our 75 members as they determined and navigated their plans for the rest of the semester.
In true EP fashion, our members did not want EP to stop and neither did we. So we pushed onwards and upwards. We hosted virtual events, and in lieu of our speaker meetings, we recorded interviews for our members with alumni such as Olivia Rodriguez ‘11, the Manager for Business Development and Sales Strategy at Instacart. The Finance Team planned our first-ever virtual event hosting a range of different venture capitalists, including Lee Hower, a co-founder of LinkedIn. The Alumni Relations Team hosted the first virtual Roundtable Discussion with Luke Sherwin ‘12, the Co-founder of Casper and Block Renovation.
Partnering with AMPLIFY and Spelman College
We transitioned to the summer which marked the start of our life-long partnership with AMPLIFY and Spelman College. AMPLIFY’s mission is to bring to light underrepresented voices in entrepreneurship and VC. As one of the original participants of the AMPLIFY initiative, EP hosted an event in August with Spelman’s Entrepreneurship Club that featured Austin Martin ‘17, founder of Rhymes with Reason. This started our partnership with Spelman’s Entrepreneurship Club, which we have loved developing this semester. We had a social/networking night with our two programs and also planned a speaker event with John Smothers as our guest.
We brainstormed ways of how EP could become a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable community. Elvia Perez ‘22 has done a masterful job of creating EP’s new Diversity and Inclusion team this fall, and we’re so excited to support her and the team in continuing efforts in this very important priority to EP.
Finishing the Summer Strong and Gearing Up for the Fall
We ended our summer with something really exciting: for the first time in over 20 years, we brought together the past co-presidents of EP for a happy hour. We had over 20 past co-presidents of EP join us, going back to the first EP co-presidents in 1998. These conversations led us to new and renewed engagements with alumni and served as inspiration as we finalized our plans for how we could turn the virtual nature of the fall semester ahead into an opportunity.
As the summer came to an end, we transitioned EP to a completely virtual format for the fall. We told our members that EP would function just as it always has, but virtually. As we planned for what EP would look like in the fall, we decided to rethink the application process with an effort to make the process as transparent and accessible as possible. We decided to interview every single person who applied to EP, as well as expand the number of people who would be accepted.
Particularly noteworthy is that we opened our application process to first-years at Brown, some of whom have never even stepped foot on campus. We welcomed many of them to our club this fall, and it has been an absolute pleasure to be the first connection point to Brown for some of them.
The Fall Semester: Becoming a Family
As our meetings for the fall began, we learned the magic of Zoom break out rooms and their power to allow us as a club to meet each other and come together as a community. We continued our efforts to ensure our members learned one new thing every Sunday. We hosted a range of speakers, from students to seasoned professionals. Albert Saniger, the co-founder of Nate joined us and shared about his experience building and scaling a technology startup. Robbie Felton ‘21 and Evan Jackson ‘21 shared their experience breaking down barriers as student founders in the healthcare space. Erika Bower ‘09, a former co-president of EP, provided great wisdom about how to navigate work opportunities during challenging economic times. In all speaker events, our guests inspired EP members and pushed us to think.
Every team in EP has done so much over the year, and we want to share a few highlights, but this recap is certainly not exhaustive by any means. The Tech team made our website look fabulous, and created a new workshop series to help students develop tech skills and get their startup ideas off the ground. The Design and Marketing team has worked extremely hard on so many amazing new designs for our events and they redesigned the logo for EP’s Podcast team. They created the new EP innov8 campaign which has inspired not just the EP community, but also those outside of it. They have shown us what it means to commit yourself to what you care about. An example of this is, Kaito Ran ‘22, the co-lead of the Design and Marketing team who joined us for every weekly Zoom from Japan early in the morning.
The Podcast team utilized our virtual space and continued to release one episode a month (Dive In x Brown EP). They have created professional podcasts featuring guests ranging from Austin Martin ‘17, Jane Mosbacher Morris, Jack Roswell ‘20, and Sarah Leary.
Putting Zoom to Great Use for Panels, Conferences, Accelerators, Pitch Nights, Roundtables, and More
The Community team and Diversity and Inclusion team collaborated to host an incredible LGBTQ panel. In addition to providing support for the 25+ active student-run ventures at Brown, the Community team also hosted a phenomenal healthcare panel that featured student founders innovating in the healthcare space, including EP’s own Jack Shaeffer ‘22. The Special Events team hosted the Food in Providence Panel and they have been planning the first-ever virtual NYC Synapse, as well as a virtual East Africa Synapse.
The Alumni Relations team has come in and saved the day with their alumni database, working hard to connect alumni with all teams of EP. They also hosted roundtable discussions featuring Toby Howell ‘19 at the Morning Brew and Margaret Hartigan ‘97, the CEO and Founder of Marstone, Inc. Innovation DOJO, the student-run semester-long accelerator, transitioned the full DOJO experience to a virtual format. In November, they hosted their Demo Day where the teams of students made their pitches in front of an all-star lineup of judges who were left in awe at the pitches and the work the teams had done over the semester.
The Women’s Empowerment (WE) team hosted their accelerator program and both WE and Startup@Brown are getting ready for their first-ever virtual conferences. We are blown away by all the amazing work that EP’s members have accomplished during such an unprecedented time. We thank all 75 of you for leading EP with passion, hard work, and laughter. It is because of you that EP has not just continued throughout the pandemic but thrived.
We remember our very first EP meeting as co-presidents, sitting on the second floor of the Nelson Center, looking at the neon-colored writing stretching from wall to wall. We sat staring at the walls feeling inspired and excited for the future of EP. We actually still have those poster boards with all of EP’s dreams and we are so proud that even through a global pandemic, EP was able to accomplish even more than what was written in those neon colors. That is a true testament to EP and how we really do Make It Happen.
Our co-presidency has been far from easy. This past year has taught us the true meaning of hard work, resilience, and the importance of community in a time of loneliness and devastation. We have made mistakes and had sleepless nights, but we have become better people and leaders because of these moments. This is a bittersweet moment for us. We are sad that our time leading this club has come to a close, but we feel so lucky that we had this opportunity to lead 75 passionate members and to have met so many amazing people along the way. What makes this transition less difficult for us is the confidence we have in our club going forward and our trust in the new leaders of EP.
We want to thank all the people who make EP as special as it is: our mentors at the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, faculty, staff, alumni, and most of all, the student members. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for helping make the heartbeat of EP go faster than ever. There is still more work to be done in EP, and it is now time to pass the baton to Isa Espinosa ‘22 and Mike Wang ‘22 who will do a tremendous job continuing to make EP the best it can be. Out of all the accomplishments our members have made over the year, we are most proud to have built a community that truly feels like a family. We feel lucky to be a part of this family, and we will be forever supporters and fans of EP.
With love and hope for the future,
Grace Parker ‘21 and Chuck Isgar ‘20.5 – Co-Presidents, Brown EP, 2020