Last night inside the Foise Innovation Studio, the beautifully laid out and bustling neuron epicenter of Worcester Polytechical Institute’s campus, waves of presenters escorted the audience through a brisk 3 minute introduction of their companies. The waves were broken up into two groups - the “Cohorts” and the “On-going” - a new distinction put in place at the WPI Tech Advisor Network (TAN) that segments these budding companies based on where they are in their evolution. I generalize the stages as:
the “Cohorts” are trying to figure out if its worth investing any more of their time on the idea and
the “On-going” are trying to figure out if its worth investing any more of their time and any one else’s time (and money) on the idea.
The event was for some, a first milestone on the journey, as framed by Keynote speaker Jim Baum - WPI Alum, Serial Entrepreneur and Investor. This milestone a competition to woo (pun intended) the diverse audience of student admirers, alumni, staff, and TAN advisors into casting their vote in the categories of: wild success, worldly impact, and financial gain.
As the night progressed , the teams displayed excitement, nervousness, exuberance, and pride. The audience speckled with as many young students as salt and peppered hairs was pensive, equally excited and in sincere admiration of the leap these teams have taken. In reality, it was likely the first semi-public success and disappointment of these young entrepreneur’s journeys. A requisite of the journey, as appropriately cautioned during Mr. Baum’s Keynote. They all seemed up for the task.
In the end, while only some teams took home the boost of confidence brought on by winning a category award, there were no losers. Just another notch in the experience belt that will move them closer to their ultimate goals. I theorize it is these events, where she engaged from the front row, that adds layers of luminance to President Leshin’s smile as she conveys the Mission she’s set forth for the University since arriving 5 years ago. A Mission that not only preaches experience driven education, but last night proved that it takes it to practice. Not just by educating but providing opportunity beyond the diploma. Much respect.
As I consumed it all, it made me reflect on my history with WPI and the good fortune Bluefin has had in setting roots in Worcester.
It was spring of 2013 and professionally I had spent the past 5 years of my career developing a social media business over 7k miles in Shanghai, China. As I looked to what was next for me, I wanted to spend more professional time in the greater vicinity of home - the Worcester area.
With a whittled down local network, I wanted to get a pulse on what technology and technical resources looked like in the area. One facet of my plan was to reach out to our local Colleges and Universities as an indicator — and that’s how through a variety of tactics consisting of both perseverance and luck, I ran into the newly formed TAN Group at WPI. I was welcomed with open arms.
I distinctly recall my conversation with Mark Rice, officially or unofficially one of the early TAN Pioneers, on this beautiful day on the campus of WPI. In some ways it was a little fortuitous - we were both a bit estranged from the University as Mark had recently come over from Babson and I wasn’t an Alumni. I remember him saying, we’ve started this Tech Advisor Network, and your experience seems applicable, why don’t you come join us. We’re not just looking for Alumni, but Friends of WPI to be a part. I attended my first meeting in June of 2013, assigned to a student lead game development team and have been involved ever since.
Last night’s event was a milestone for many. A program first for TAN. An initial public showcase for others. For me, a point of grateful reflection over being part of an amazing group for the last 6 years that has provided:
An outlet to share my experiences
A chance to work with some talented students
A network of highly respected and valued Advisors
Long lasting business parters
Last night i was so happy to see a glimpse of all the hard work the team at the University have put forth (kudos to Sarah Mahan and Todd Keiller) as it continues to invest in the future and its students, and personally — its friends of WPI.
Often I get asked, why did you end up in Worcester. Last night exemplifies one of the Whys.
Thank you WPI for being a pillar in a great community.