August 3, 2021

How now, Purple Cow?

Earlham’s knack for creating entrepreneurs, and what goes into it.

With a quick step, smart suit and energy to burn, Gene Hambrick still looks like he could be on the way to a meeting with some other executive. A member of Earlham’s Class of 1973, Hambrick returned to the College from the corporate world in 2014 as an executive in residence and as the leader of Earlham’s fledgling co-curricular program for entrepreneurs, which has now blossomed into Earlham’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity, the CEIC. He’s its senior executive director, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

“Entrepreneurs are people who have an idea, then do something with it. They don’t just let it stay up in the clouds.”

Gene Hambrick

There has also been a windfall of accomplishment in recent years. Since he began, the program has supported students in competing for (and even winning) the million-dollar Hult Prize, the world’s largest student social entrepreneurship competition. In addition, the CEIC sponsors its own business plan competitions such as the EPIC Grand Challenge, which invites students every year to come up with ideas that earn awards of start-up capital with the aim of improving the lives of others.

Since 1996, Earlham’s business and nonprofit management major—now called global management—has been preparing students for the world of business. Today, the major works alongside the CEIC to offer programming and advising for students interested in entrepreneurship, as well.

“The global management major offers a track in social entrepreneurship. Students don’t have to major in global management to get entrepreneurial experience, though,” says Rebecca Jestice ’97, director of the global management program and associate professor of global management. Earlham’s global management faculty also don’t confine their work to the classroom. Not at all. You’ll find global management faculty involved in CEIC initiatives and other efforts promoting entrepreneurialism by giving workshops, mentoring teams in business plan competitions and serving as formal and informal advisers for students developing their own projects.

With all of these resources available to students, Earlham could be “the Purple Cow of liberal arts schools for entrepreneurs,” says Hambrick, referencing Seth Godin’s bestselling book about the power of standing out as a remarkable exception. Liberal arts schools don’t usually count entrepreneurship as a specialty. To make his point, Hambrick runs through a list of alumni entrepreneurs that includes names such as Margaret Hamilton, the Apollo code developer and founder of two software companies; Alan Scantland, co-founder of CoverMyMeds; Dave Matthews, scientific founder of Agouron Pharmaceuticals, which developed the first FDA-approved drug for HIV; and more.

A trip through LinkedIn brings up dozens more, notes Jannie Dusseau ’65, who has been helping Hambrick identify Earlham alumni who have become entrepreneurs. And while many of the recent graduates have had a business background, what’s both clear and remarkable is how many Earlhamite entrepreneurs have not had what might have been an “expected” undergraduate major.

 “A lot of people are doing things that involve computers, websites, apps—even though they weren’t computer science majors,” she says, noting that she’s found entrepreneurs who majored in everything from peace and global studies to neuroscience to art. “A whole other category that fascinates me—there are alumni who are educating people about technology, and have started schools and programs around the world for tech education.”

What is it about entrepreneurship that seems to attract so many Earlhamites? And how does Earlham help them on their entrepreneurial journeys?

As Dusseau notes, some Earlhamites seem to have evolved into entrepreneurship throughout their careers—picking up skills and interests along the way until the moment seemed right to strike out on their own. Others are what she calls “accidental entrepreneurs”—people who found themselves in a situation where they needed to survive financially, and entrepreneurship offered a lifeline.

Together, the CEIC and Earlham’s global management major offer current students a third path into entrepreneurship by making it a more intentional destination. But they do so, of course, in a distinctly Earlham way.

From idea to impact

Hambrick had just begun running workshops on developing business pitches when Abhinav Khanal ’16, a politics major, and Sunghee Tark ’16, an economics major, were in their junior year at Earlham. When a classmate invited them to join her in a fall fundraising project for a community in Costa Rica, they ended up with far more funds than expected. Tark, Khanal and other students also received an invitation from the community to visit during winter break that year. During their trip, among the people they met were women coffee growers.

At the time, says Tark, “we had no idea about starting a venture.” But in talking to the women farmers, it became clear to Tark and Khanal that there was a gap between these women and the global coffee market that might be bridged—should be bridged. Many of these women, integral to the harvesting of the coffee, were nowhere to be found when examining the end-product packaged coffee, which was often marketed and sold in the States. “There seemed to be something, potentially globally, in the coffee industry that needed—not fixing, but maybe needed to be looked at from a different narrative,” says Tark.

Gene Hambrick

Eric Berg ’68, co-founder of LINGOs;

Gerry Cooper ’66, founder of Asia Tech Source;

Orion Creamer ’99, co-founder of Big Chill;

Eric Dimick-Eastman ’96, co-founder of Green Filing;

Bobbie Gottschalk ’64, co-founder of Seeds of Peace;

Melissa Lamson ’91, founder of Lamson Consulting;

Diane Lupke ’80, founder and president of Lupke & Associates;

Robert Metcalf ’65, an emeritus professor of microbiology who designed portable water testing labs and received the first Water Humanitarian Award;

Mark ’73 and Mary Ellen Meyer ’73, co-founders of Wigle Whiskey;

Dave Wynegar ’64, founder of Neochem.

Are you an Earlhamite entrepreneur? Contact Jannie Dusseau ’65 to tell her about your entrepreneurial enterprises.

Back at Earlham, they started a small study group of students interested in talking about the coffee industry. A grant offered through Earlham’s career center and funded by the Lilly Endowment allowed the group to spend their senior year exploring the coffee industry in Indiana and doing market research. They began taking part in some of the workshops and competitions offered through Earlham’s entrepreneurship program, as well.

“In general, though, Earlham taught us perspective. We knew that there wouldn’t be one problem and one solution that we could come in and solve. Instead, we brought a more open approach, inviting people we would work with into a human-centered design process,” says Tark.

“Also, the student groups at Earlham were so active and aware, and that informed us to see beyond the immediate short-term outcome. All of these opportunities we got to lead different initiatives at Earlham helped us understand how to work in a group, how to lead.”

Bean Voyage co-founders, Sunghee Tark ’16 and Abhinav Khanal ’16.

Today, the nonprofit Bean Voyage works with over 200 coffee producers as they pursue their mission to eradicate the gender gap in farming.

“I’m still learning a lot about what it takes to be an entrepreneur,” says Tark.

“I think it’s important to have a boundary, a set of values that you’re going to stick to. What are the things you’re never going to negotiate? And beyond that, saying yes to opportunities—as long as they aren’t compromising your own values.”

That commitment to values distinguishes Earlham’s entrepreneurs. It’s a part of the Earlham experience in general, and it’s also built into the program.

“Entrepreneurs are people who have an idea, then do something with it,” says Hambrick. “They don’t just let it stay up in the clouds.

“And at Earlham, we want you to be a social entrepreneur—someone who has an idea, a passion or an ideal, and wants to do something with it for good.”

The work of the CEIC also makes paramount the most important axiom of entrepreneurial work: You get better by doing it.  

Hambrick gives students opportunities to practice being entrepreneurs—through sharing ideas, brainstorming ways to turn them into ventures and even testing them out. It’s something that Tark says would have been incredibly beneficial for her own startup in the beginning.

“Funding opportunities are the hardest thing—it’s really hard to get that first thousand dollars to prove your concept,” she says. Through the CEIC and its EPIC Grand Challenge, Earlham students currently have the opportunity to win awards of up to $10,000, allowing them to test their business ideas before they even leave campus.

This year’s EPIC Grand Challenge winner, Nelson Morlock ’22, doesn’t take that opportunity for granted.

According to Morlock, the essential ingredients for becoming an entrepreneur aren’t just personal qualities—they’re environmental, too. “Earlham is a perfect storm for that,” he says, “because Earlham teaches us to synthesize, to think creatively, to come up with creative solutions to challenges—through the [business] competitions, but also just through the way classes are set up. It’s never ‘Here’s the right answer, fill out a worksheet.’ It’s, ‘Let’s talk about it and come to a solution together.’”

That approach has helped make Earlham a fertile ground for growing entrepreneurs—particularly social entrepreneurs. The critical thinking and problem-solving skills required of those who seek to build new businesses and nonprofits are cultivated throughout a student’s time at the College. And as Earlhamites face challenges throughout their lives, they continue to seek out new knowledge and tools to overcome those challenges—key qualities of the successful entrepreneur.

Today, Earlhamite entrepreneurs of all class years are identifying the gaps in our society and using creativity and compassion to offer up new solutions to the world. Through their businesses and nonprofits, these Earlhamites are inspiring a new generation to dive deep into their own interests and the issues they want to solve.

“It’s like what’s over the mantle in Earlham Hall,” Dusseau says. “’They gathered sticks and kindled a fire and left it burning.’

“It’s the love of learning, and sharing that with others, that they’ve left burning.”

Story written by Jen Gose. Photos courtesy Bean Voyage.

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For Good.
Spark good—
For Good.