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Episode Notes

Episode Title: Liz Brigham on Davidson College’s Jay Hurt Hub: The Entrepreneurial Pursuit.

Episode summary introduction: Liz Brigham is the Director of The Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Davidson College.

Liz joins us on our podcast to share Why The Hurt Hub was created, programs &  activities, what it offers its stakeholders, and how the students at Davidson College benefit.

In particular, we discuss the following with her:

  • Liz Brigham’s Professional Background
  • The Birth of the Jay Hurt Hub
  • Programs and Activities in the Center
  • Benefits for Students, Faculty & the Community

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introducing Liz Brigham [0:45]
  • Liz’s Professional Background [2:08]
  • The Transition back to Davidson [7:49]
  • What is Innovation? [10:04]
  • The Jay Hurt Hub [11:38]
  • The Origins of the Hub [13:22]
  • On Liberal Arts and Innovation [15:59]
  • The Structure & Programs [19:02]
  • Student Participation in the Hub [24:19]
  • Breaking down Perception - Hub for All [27:56]
  • Success Stories [31:41]
  • Measuring Success [37:26]
  • Where is the Hub Headed? [42:51]
  • Advice for Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs [48:38]

Our Guest: Liz Brigham is the Director of The Jay Hurt Hub at Davidson College. Liz has a Bachelor’s degree in English from Davidson College, and MBA from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. Liz had a number of product and marketing roles at companies like Disney, Jive Software, MorningStar.

Memorable Quote: “So we offer educational programming like our Lean Startup class... where you have sort of purposeful serendipity of an entrepreneur out in the community, sitting alongside, you know, a sophomore at Davidson. And what happens at that intersection.” Liz on bringing diverse groups together in a class at the Hub.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.


Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

<Start Snippet> Liz Brigham  0:09  

I'd like to say that innovation to me is putting seemingly disparate things together to create something new, or to significantly improve upon something that already exists. And one quotation that my grandfather used to say to me all the time I my whole life, I've been an athlete and I played softball and tennis and all sorts of other things. And he would always say, keep your eye on the ball and hit 'em where they ain't.

Venkat  0:45  [Introducing Liz Brigham, Davidson College]

That is Liz Brigham of Davidson talking about the Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Hello, I am your host, Venkat Raman.

An Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub on a Liberal Arts College campus is unique, if not intriguing.

That College is Davidson College!

The Hub’s mission is to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in their student body, faculty, alumni and the surrounding community.

Liz Brigham is the Director of the Hub.

Liz joins us on our podcast today to share Why the Hurt Hub was created, programs &  activities, what it offers its stakeholders, and how the students at Davidson benefit.

So, without further delay, here’s Liz Brigham!

Liz B  1:41  

Hey Venkat, I'm here.

Venkat Raman  1:43  

Hi, Liz. Welcome. Welcome to our Podcast, College Matters. Alma Matters. Thank you. Thank you so much for making the time. So really excited to talk about innovation, and about The Hurt hub. So thank you. So if you're ready, we can sort of dive right in. And maybe, you know, give us a little bit about your background.

Liz B  2:08  [Liz’s Professional Background]

Absolutely. So I was Davidson class of 2004. I was an English major. And I always say at Davidson, my sort of pre business education was in running our concert Committee for the union board, which I'm happy to go into more detail there.

But then after Davidson, I started my career at a company called McMaster Carr, which is the at this point, I think, 120 plus year old industrial supply distribution company. I was in their Management Development Program, and learned all about customer success, running a call center, both domestically and internationally when I was about 20 to 23 years old, international supply chain logistics, all of those good things. And that was really, the program there was meant to take liberal arts students of various backgrounds and run them through an effective business boot camp. And the end of three years, you had the option either to to stay and be kind of a lifer at that company, and they would pay for your MBA or to go and get your MBA and be a good alum of the company.

So I went and did my MBA at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business in 2007 to 2009. And while I was there, my introduction to technology came in the case of an Apple Case Competition. So Apple actually came to campus before, right before they launched the App Store, dated myself a little bit but, and said, you know, put forth a case competition to have us develop some of the first prototypes for apps that would go into the App Store. So my team and I developed what we called a travel, travel book in your pocket type of app. And we won the case competition and that was really my first foray into seeing technology as something that was attainable for me even as an English major, something that I could be a part of.

And from there, I did my internship with Disney.com and that summer of late and then you know full time offer to go back to Walt Disney parks and resorts in the summer of 2009. So while I was there, in a product management role, running Disney Parks calm I also managed the digital experience of their annual marketing campaigns and then eventually did about a seven month project at Disneyland Paris, overhauling all of the 12 websites for across EMEA there for Disneyland Paris.

Then I transitioned into a product marketing role at an enterprise software company in Portland, Oregon. All the while, I should say running Davidson alumni chapters in both Southern California and then eventually in Portland, Oregon. I remained a Davidson groupie. Since I graduated, and there, you know, really learned about Silicon Valley, the company was headquartered in Palo Alto, I was going back and forth between Portland and Palo Alto nearly monthly. I was more of an intrapreneur there developed a mobile app suite from scratch and took that to market. So it was responsible, eventually for their their flagship collaboration and communication software platform called Jivex, and Jive.

And eventually, and then transition, moved back to Chicago with my family as my husband had an opportunity. And I went to work for a startup called Timshel. And we built all of the marketing automation platform, kind of API's for a number of nonprofit clients, but also including Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2016. And, unfortunately, we ran out of funding with that company, and so have been through the sort of, you know, hockey stick growth and decline of startups.

And then I transitioned into a role at Morningstar, which is a financial services, and data and research company, I built the product marketing organization for their software business unit, from, you know, three people to 10 people scaled that globally, and then eventually took over running their flagship software platform for financial advisors and asset managers in April of 2020.

But as as with COVID, and I think all this sort of social, and political movements that we saw over, you know, the last 18 months, it really caused me and my family to take a look at the impact we were having in the world and our communities, and really take a step back at what we were what we're doing. And then I saw in a tweet, an opportunity that my predecessor was actually leaving the hurt hub, and that this role as director was coming open.

So thanks to Twitter, Davidson College, running the Hurt Hub, as its director, as well, as just recently, over the past several months have also taken on some innovation initiatives for the college.

Venkat Raman  7:16  

Awesome, awesome. Sounds like a great journey so far.

Liz B  7:21  

Thank you.

Venkat Raman  7:26  

Like you mentioned, you're a liberal arts major, you went into, you know, entrepreneurship of some sort, you know, basically technology companies, and then startups. And now you're back, running the hub. So what does that move? Like? I mean, you know, obviously, from industry back to, I wouldn't say academia, but at least campus.

Liz B  7:49  [The Transition back to Davidson]

Sure, sure. Yeah. You know, I think on the surface, as I mentioned before, I've been a Davidson groupie for 21 years. And so I was already very deeply connected to the college through mentorship, through providing funding for an internship grant that I set up with some friends, in recognition of one of our favorite professors who had retired, and I was on the Board of Visitors and other things.

So for me, I never felt like I left frankly, even though I was just sort of here in spirit, I was coming back to campus a couple times a year generally. So that was always there. I will say the, the shift for me running, you know, a 13 year old software platform with it was a market leader and being in a public publicly traded company with 7500 employees and going to now you know, running a team of six, you know, in a very fast paced kind of environment.

It, Like I said, it's almost this, this enclave onto itself within, you know, the umbrella of academia. So it's a very interesting combination of different things. I've done everything that I can to try to preserve a startup type of pace, obviously, without burning people out here at the hub, and really having a focus on driving change. So for me that that's always been my ethos of, you know, how do we test, learn and iterate and get get to the next level, and so just kind of changing the context of the ecosystem.

But I will say it was very helpful to have had, you know, relationships with leadership at the college with so many individuals, whether they're faculty members or staff members to really help facilitate that transition. So it felt fairly natural to me, even though maybe on paper, it looks like a huge pivot. So

Venkat Raman  9:47  

No, it sounds like an awesome opportunity. Let's start by sort of just talking about innovation. What does innovation mean to you? What do you, How would you define that or describe it?

Liz B  10:04  [What is Innovation?]

Yeah, I really like this question. I like to say that innovation to me is putting seemingly disparate things together to create something new, or to significantly improve upon something that already exists. And one quotation that my grandfather used to say to me all the time, I, my whole life, I've been an athlete, and I played softball and tennis, and all sorts of other things. And he would always say, keep your eye on the ball, and hit 'em where they ain't. It's not, you know, it's not necessarily his quotation, it's a very old baseball players, from the turn of the 20th century quotation. But I really like that of, you know, keeping your eye on the ball, so you understand what's kind of going on in whatever context or community or network that you're existing in, but then hit them where they do something that's really different and unexpected. But because you've been so deeply involved in that community, and you're paying attention, and you're listening, and you're observing, you know, like, the best scientist in the world, then you have the opportunity to hit them, where they, you know, go somewhere that other people aren't.

Venkat Raman  11:12  

That's, that's actually a wonderful way to describe it. Because, I mean, it's the really the hardest part, you know, trying to do that. So let's, let's talk about The Hub, the Jay Hurt Hub, I mean. Tell us a little bit about what it is and what it stands for.

Liz B  11:38  [The Jay Hurt Hub]

Sure. So the Jay Hurt Hub for innovation and entrepreneurship at Davidson College, I would say is very unique. And so far as we're at a liberal arts college that does not have a business school, doesn't purport to have a business school. There's no graduate programs here. And so while we are, we sit at the intersection of sort of campus and community and supporting business growth, economic development, we also have a very different framework. And so our vision is really that we exist to facilitate access, and exposure to innovation and entrepreneurship for all. And I always really sort of re emphasize that for all our values, our freedom, integrity, and inclusion. And we'd like to say, you know, this the freedom to succeed and to fail, integrity, the Honor Code is a huge part of the culture of Davidson College. And so making sure that we're acting with integrity, with ethics, and the right sort of moral compass, and then inclusion. And that is meant to say across every single spectrum, that you can define that word. You know, there's this perception that Oh, entrepreneurship is just about tech. And granted, I do come from, you know, many tech enabled companies or tech forward companies, but at the same time, you can find innovation and an entrepreneurs are intrapreneurs across every single spectrum. So regardless of your major, your focus your interest area, or some more demographic scale, we are really looking to break down any barriers actual or perceived to participating and being an innovator and entrepreneur.

Venkat Raman  13:18  

Now, how did this come about? What are the origins of The Hub?

Liz B  13:22  [The Origins of the Hub]

Sure. So the building itself is a was a turn of, you know, kind of late 19th, early 20th century, established textile mill, and it's situated just it's technically on campus. And that's another perception we're trying to get past that it's David Davidson is a relatively small, you know, liberal arts or excuse me, residential college. Yeah.

And so, the, the college purchased the property in 2014. And then through very generous support from Jay hurt, after whom the building is named, and adven demon who both in their own rights are multi vino entrepreneurs, and business owners many times over, and of course, many other alumni, corporate sponsors and other partnerships, like we have with launch lkn, which I'll talk about in a moment.

The Hurt Hub, was really an opportunity for our president Carol Quillen's vision of kind of scaling the liberal arts beyond our campus and our walls to come to life. And that intense focus on that we truly believe that a liberal arts education with its focus on critical thinking, multiple perspectives, empathy, communication skills, etc, that those are perfect for building new innovators and entrepreneurs.

So that was really the the genesis of everything so the the facility and the program just launched in July of 2018. But prior to that the college had been engaged in a variety of different endeavors focused on developing you know, high impact experiential learning opportunities around innovation and entrepreneurship, etc. So it was really kind of the culmination of many years of work under President quillons leadership.

But yeah, so we're only three years old. I think that's surprising for some people. But...

Venkat Raman  15:19  

You've mentioned this a couple of times, I mean, you yourself, you're an English major, who, you know, you've done a lot of work in, you know, in just broadly innovation and entrepreneurship and technology. Now, how did that sort of culture or ethos kind of create this hub? I mean, you know, by and large, you know, everyone talks about, you know, Stanford or MIT or, you know, tech company [colleges], Georgia Tech, they're all doing these kinds of entrepreneurial initiatives.

But within liberal arts, I mean, I don't know if you guys are the first or the only one. But this sounds like a pretty unique thing. So talk a little bit about that.

Liz B  15:59  [On Liberal Arts and Innovation]

Sure. Yeah, I do think that it really helps us to stand out and to differentiate ourselves amongst liberal arts educational institutions and our peer institutions or certainly others of our peer institutions that have similar facilities like a Middlebury or Dartmouth or others. But generally, they also have some sort of business program or business schools you know, associated with those institutions.

And so I'm, I, I probably don't want to speak out of school, but we may be the only one of the only ones in the country that's not attached to a business business school, I need to I need to get my my facts straight on that. So maybe if somebody is listening, they can they can double check me, but but really, I you know, again, I think, because Davidson is a small residential, liberal arts campus.

And we interestingly, you know, when I was a student here, it felt like it was very disconnected from the city of Charlotte. Now, 17 years later, we're a veritable suburb of Charlotte, in effect well, and we also have very large, you know, fortune 100 200 companies around us Lowe's is headquartered down the street, Ingersoll Rand train, MSC industrial, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, you know, all these kind of major companies as well, as you know, Charlotte is a banking hub. So count.

And then the last thing is, we're situated on Lake Norman, which is beautiful, and huge. And so you have a lot of people who, especially during these COVID times, even before have have migrated from San Francisco, New York, Boston, Chicago, etc. Because they said, Hey, you know, the quality of life, the weather's much better, it's a lot less expensive to live here, etc, and so on.

And so we just have this combination of all the right ingredients, I think, to really take off as an entrepreneurial hub, you know, hub more broadly in that sense. We have capital, we have intellectual property, we have very sophisticated and experienced executives across a multitude of industries.

And so I think and then with Davidson, obviously, we have a premier liberal arts faculty, researchers here at Davidson, you know, we are many of our students are doing research along with our faculty members, and co writing and co publishing papers in in the best academic journals. And so all of those pieces kind of coming together, it felt like this is a distinctly Davidson opportunity, not just Davidson is insofar as the college but Davidson, more writ large in the geography and everything that we have at our disposal.

Venkat Raman  18:53  

So, so how does it actually work? So how are you guys structured? How do the various stakeholders take advantage of this?

Liz B  19:02  [The Structure & Programs]

Yeah. So we like to say that we exist at the confluence of campus and community and what that means is we have five main source products, programs or services that we offer, the first one being educational programming.

So we offer educational programming like our Lean Startup class, it's going to start here in a couple of weeks, that's open to anybody, so it's free for Davidson students, and it's a nominal charge for anyone in the community. So those I would say are more examples of our co curricular where you have sort of purposeful serendipity of an entrepreneur out in the community sitting alongside you know, a sophomore at Davidson. And what happens at that intersection. Now we do offer some classes as well that have course credit along with them where students are, you know, for an entire semester doing an internship with a startup or small business and using that almost as their textbook as it were. And then getting a credit for that experience.

And then there's a more of a colloquium wrapped around that. So you know, bi weekly discussions and debates about what they're seeing inside of those companies, etc. So that's around our sort of educational programming. And they're, we're really trying to put forth more of the entrepreneurial mindset, we fully recognize that, you know, not everybody here at Davidson is going to have a business are going to launch out of their dorm room. But yeah, 10, you know, 10 years. Hence, we want to make sure that when they're ready to take that step, that they can tap into that, that toolkit and skill set, regardless of where they are.

The second piece is experiential learning. And we really see that manifests in our program called the Gig Hub. And that is an opportunity for students to participate in micro internships or gigs, you know, 30-40 hours of a project, maybe that's a marketing project, maybe it's doing, checking, website development, etc, that's an opportunity for the Davidson student to get paid, and to work with a small business or startup either in the region or with COVID, you know, now remotely. So that's been a wonderful opportunity for students that kind of get their first their feet wet, as it were, with the Hurt Hub. And as well, to put something more practical experience onto their resume and have stories to talk about.

We also have just begun to offer things like case competitions, or design thinking challenges and other things like that, that you might see in a more typical business school environment. But we're bringing that into the undergraduate experience.

The third piece is mentorship. So as I alluded to, before, we have this wonderful stable of executives, angel investors, etc, are in this area who were really looking to give back. So that's not just necessarily mentoring a particular venture, but it's more mentoring that individual, so whether it's a student, whether it's somebody in the community, access to mentorship is there.

And then the fourth piece is around startup capital. So at the, at the moment, we only have pitch competitions and access to capital for students and young alumni. But that's something that we're kind of looking to build out in the future. So we have three different opportunities from, you know, micro grants of up to $1,000, to just go test out a new idea, all the way up to a $25,000 equity investment through our Davidson venture fund. And then in the middle, we have kind of a an average impact Fund, which is the opportunity to get up to $10,000 in a grant.

So we really kind of run the spectrum of that, in preparing students and young alarms, as I mentioned, to, to put together a pitch to present themselves and their venture.

And then the last piece is co-working. So we are nonprofit. But we also run a business, we run, you know, co working operation here. So we've got about 140 different members of the Hurt Hub, everybody who you know, from someone who's just dropping in a couple times a month to companies that have headquartered, their offices here, and are leasing space from us, and many whom of whom have been with us since the very beginning.

So that's really where we say, okay, you know, we're giving all of our community the opportunity to mix and mingle across the spectrum. So we have an application for those offices, wherein we're making sure that those individuals want to work with students, they want to be part of our community, they've bought into sort of Co-creating this community with us. And so we never know what happens from that night, I'm happy to share some stories of some good success stories of students and co workers getting together as well.

Venkat Raman  23:57  

Yeah, so before we sort of jump into some success stories, how are you finding the participation from the students? I mean, what's, what are you finding? What kinds of, you know broadly, what kind of majors or what is there a bias there? Do you find just about anybody, Or just give me a feel for how sort of popular quote unquote it is?

Liz B  24:19  [Student Participation in the Hub]

Sure. Yeah. So that it's a it's a multifaceted answer that I will provide.

But so on, on one level, we have students we've nearly because we've been tracking our data as well. So I also employ about 15 different students and some of those students work with us on our business intelligence team. And just like I would have had business analysts in you know, previous roles in corporate America.

I really felt it was really it was important for us to provide those students opportunities to get a sense for Okay, who's coming, why are they coming? What are they participating in? And how can you to harness that data and mine it to drive better programming, etc, and so on. So I will, I'll speak broadly to that.

So we know we have just slightly under half of our student population, even with COVID going on, came through our doors in the last year. That primarily is still, you know, a lot of students coming to study because it is very conducive to that. But at the same time, we also saw, like I said, before, we have about 230 or so it's kind of on a rolling basis. So that number fluctuates a bit, but roughly 230, or about 10% of our student population have gone through training to be GigHub consultants.

And that really cuts across the entire spectrum. So when we're looking at that data, I have, actually a

  • Higher percentage of women than men that are participating there,
  • About 20% of those individuals are student athletes,
  • We have just about every single major represented at Davidson, you can also create your own major through the center for Interdisciplinary Studies.

So I got some students that are in that bucket. That's really the I think best representation of, of the opportunity is through the Gig hub program.

They're still I would say, you know, what we did, we conducted over 151 on one interviews when I first came in to this rule of almost about a year ago, because we couldn't have any events, we had the gift of COVID, to give us the opportunity to really do that proper market research and talk to people. So that was, you know, interviews across all of our audiences, students, faculty, staff, members, community members, etc.

I will say what came out of those qualitative interviews, and then we followed up with a quantitative survey of students is that, yes, there's still a bit of a perception that this is just about tech, this is just about STEM. Oh, if I'm a theater major, This place isn't for me, we have meticulously focused on breaking down those misperceptions.

And in any programming that we do marketing outreach, it has been, we have been intentional about everybody that we're reaching out to to make sure that we we reach that vision of for all right, the inclusion piece. And so I would be remiss if I said that the perception isn't still out there, but I think it is diminished over the last year with our very intentional efforts to bring as many people from varying backgrounds into our space.

Venkat Raman  27:45  

Do you have any examples of breaking down perceptions, for example, for all part, any, any good anecdotes or examples?

Liz B  27:56  [Breaking down Perception - Hub for All]

Yeah, so we are, we're just coming off of innovation week. So I have many, many stories. We put together this week long showcase really of everything that we have to offer, the campus and the community here at the hurt hub over the last week, some of the programming like our TechStars Startup Weekend we had done in the past, but we had never sort of combined all of these activities into one week. And so I'll give you kind of the brief rundown, but even TechStars Startup Weekend, we had about 20 participants there. And we honestly you know, I've been a marketer for 17 years. This is maybe one of the biggest type of you know, marketing efforts and launches that I've ever done across a multitude of channels. And so, you know, we reached out to the heads of every single student organization that we possibly could multiple faculty members across every we were very intentional. We had at least one faculty member across all of the disciplines that we could find. And so what we ended up with over the course of innovation week was about 450 people came from all from the campus from far away as Portland, Oregon somebody flew in from Portland, Oregon, which is not our intention, but somehow we got to this person. But really, as we think about our geography, you know, down into Charlotte into kind of almost South Carolina area, all over Davidson, and the Lake Norman area, and for a campus of 2000 students, we were very, we were very impressed and excited. We had 17 different companies showcase everything from a new take on socks, to cryptocurrency trading platforms and you know from from every different socio economic, gender background, every kind of spectrum that you can that you can really think of was representative In some way, and the other way that we did that was that we were intentional as well about bringing art into our space. So as part of our student and business showcases, we had launched a student art and student curated art show for the first time. And we had a student doing a live mural of, you know, everybody's perceptions of innovation. And so anybody could go up and white right on her whiteboard, you know, what they thought innovation was, and then she was painting that into a mural. And so just like I was saying, being very intentional about breaking down those perceptions by inviting in art, inviting in theater, inviting in, you know, people who have businesses from every different spectrum. And then really creating that environment of inclusivity. But also belonging, as we talked about that, you know, I when you work at Disney, the Disney never really comes out of you heard, so that guest orientation very seriously. And so that was, you know, from a hospitality perspective, all the detail of of the food and how things were laid out, and so that everyone felt like they belonged, that those activities was something that was really important to us.

Venkat Raman  31:13  

That sounds great. Sounds like you had a very successful innovation week.

Venkat Raman  31:23  

So now, tell us a little bit about, you know, maybe some stories of success. I know, it's been three years. What kind of things have, you know, gone from maybe a concept to something of consequence?

Liz B  31:41  [Success Stories]

Sure. Yeah. I'll tell you a little bit about a student who just recently graduated, Owen Bezick. And I'll walk you through his story. So Owen started off and took a class called Data Science and Society. That was taught by our previous Faculty Director, Dr. Laurie Heyer, and that was, I believe, his sophomore year.

And he came into The Hurt Hub for some assistance on his on data set or a problem set that he had, we have a group here called the Data Cats, which is effectively almost like a tutoring center for data analysis and computer science, etc. And in the course of coming in to get help, he got introduced to the Gig Hub program.

 And sort of in parallel, one of our co workers here, this gentleman, Nicholas Bracco, had gotten an email from our community manager saying, Hey, if you're looking to work with students, here's a little bit more about our Gig hub program. And Nicholas has been for the last 15 years is owned and operated a consulting firm that helps very large hospital networks and healthcare networks with their capital expenditure planning. So new buildings that are being built, etc, and so on. So he was saying, you know, I really need some assistance with some data analysis, I'm going to submit a gig so Nicholas submits a gig.

Meanwhile, Owen is over here in the data hub center, and people start talking. And they get together and so Owen applies for the gig, he gets hired for the gig, he starts working with Nicholas and building upon his experience in that data science and society class and data cats.

He's listening to Nicolas talk about all of the various issues with and if anybody's been in corporate America before you can, I think, relate to this, but too many emails, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint decks, etc, just to try to get everybody on the same page for the project, took it upon himself to develop an R Shiny App that would actually kind of combine all of those things into one place, so that Nicholas's clients would just have one app that they could go to, and all of those various artifacts for the project kind of live there, there was a lot of data visualization, etc.

So fast forward, Nicolas pitches that to some of his clients, they love it. Owen decides to apply for a try it fund grant, which I mentioned before, so he has $1,000 that kind of hire another Davidson student actually through gig hub to help them with with this project. They get to a certain point and now Nicholas is actually landed pilot customer with one of the largest, if not the largest hospital systems in the upper Midwest. And so he says, hey, there's something here. You know, in all of his consulting, this is really helping now, he not only has consulting, but he also has a product that he can bring to market.

So Nicholas and Owen decided to apply for the Davidson Venture Fund. They've become finalists. And last year as part of the Davidson venture fund. We also kind of building off of my time as a TechStars mentor in Chicago. We really felt like we needed to bring more educational programming to that competition. To give it a little bit more heft because we were in this you know, hybrid environment and we weren't able to interact with people, as well as can really bump up the the mentorship part of that.

So we put into place his six week educational program that Owen and Nicholas along with all the other finalists actually Lorena James was a finalist, too, I know she's on before, right? As well as giving them access to Davidson alumni, mentors and hurt hub co worker mentors, we had a pool of 18. So they were going everything every single week through, you know, a different aspect of the business plan to help getting get them ready for that final pitch.

Fast forward, they ended up winning the Davidson Venture Fund competition, have a you know, $25,000 equity investment in their firm, Owen decided to because of the success of their pitches, Owen decided to, to move into this role full time. So they've officially you know, launched the business, they're headquartered here in the Hurt Hub now, you know, still six months later, and they've hired four other Davidson students through the gig hub. So you can, you can see now that everything's kind of coming full circle, they, they landed that customer in a more, you know, full time capacity in the upper Midwest, and then they've expanded into other hospital systems in Florida and elsewhere.

So that's our sort of, you know, best story, I think, even in the course of just the last 18 months, frankly, of how one students, you know, turned into five students turned into, you know, co working, etc, across a multitude of of offerings that we have here, the Hurt Hub.

Venkat Raman  36:41  

Fantastic story. And, you know, that's that's what, you know, again, going back to your Confluence, this is what getting people together does, right? Right. It's just a huge brainstorm of ideas that, you know, some of which will take off.

So two things, then, you know, as I look ahead, I would ask, so how do you guys think of success?

What is, you know, how are you going to measure that? Obviously, stories like, Owen would be Owen’s would be great.

But what, what is, what is it that you're striving for? What's, what's success?

Liz B  37:26  [Measuring Success]

Sure. Yeah, I mean, I am a very data driven person if that hasn't come across, even though I was an English major, I probably spent more of my life in Excel spreadsheets than I care to remember. But really, you know, from a theoretical standpoint, we're really moving from outputs to outcomes. And what I mean by that is not just measuring, oh, you know, 15 people came through the door, or the even the 450, right, that came to innovation week, that's a wonderful number. But what we're really focused on is the outcome.

So looking at how many students are graduating and then going to work for startups or small businesses in the community, how many students have launched, you know, their own companies, and then following those trajectories across funding rounds, number of patents filed, really economic development measures of jobs created those types of things.

Similarly, from an alumni perspective, looking at how many more alums you know, year on year growth percentages in participation, as mentors, as frankly, is those alumni who didn't think that they could launch their own businesses before, you know, they came through our educational programming, how many more businesses or jobs have been created as a result of that. And then, as well, we're a nonprofit, and we rely on a lot of philanthropy.

So you know, what does that lead to in terms of financial sustainability and longer term and giving back to the program so that we can continue? We also know from a community standpoint, we look, we have a business here who started with us nearly three years ago as a couple of individuals, and, you know, maybe a five figure runway in terms of revenue, and now they're approaching, you know, an eight figure, run annual run rate, and we'll be probably somewhere from 60 to 65 people, employees that they've grown here at the Hurt Hub over the last three years. And frankly, now they've outgrown our space, right?

So looking at those types of companies who, okay, we want them to outgrow our space. Fortunately, they're staying here in Davidson, and they're, you know, leasing some other office space but keeping their headquarters here. So it's that as well like, what kind of economic development are we helping to support in and around those sort of, you know, North Mecklenburg County, Greater Charlotte area, so we're looking at those types of pieces. Obviously, those are much more longitudinal, in terms of the the measurement.

So from either semesterly and quarterly, frankly, effective, I use the objectives and key results framework, which is, you know, fairly standard across many companies at this point. But if if those of you who are listening haven't read Measure what Matters by John Doerr, that's kind of the Bible, of laying out objectives and key results. And so we look at our major objectives are one, like I said, you know, facilitating access and exposure to innovation and entrepreneurship for all.

But also things like becoming an integrated, an integral part of the Davidson College experience is an objective. And so each semester we go in, and we have very specific key results that would line up to that.

So innovation week, for example, delivering that those brand new, a brand new kind of product or innovation, right, that we're that we're bringing to campus that fits into more deeply integrating into campus. And then certainly, from a longer term perspective, as well, we have to be financially self sustaining.

And so you know, looking at our coworking business, looking at other opportunities for corporate sponsorship, or other things, getting creative with working more deeply with corporations who want to do things like sponsor projects, or other pieces that both satiate our mission and give wonderful opportunities for students, but also provide that that funding so we can be sustainable into the future.

Venkat Raman  41:26  

Now, you know, you had mentioned, education programs, which are free for students, How many, How many students In a typical semester, go through that program? Do you have a feel for that, you have those numbers are I mean, just just broadly?

Liz B  41:44  

Yeah.Yeah, I mean, we, you know, with with COVID times, I would say the, we didn't offer as many classes as we have historically. But generally, we're offering things like the Lean Startup class, we're offering a marketing class, we might be offering a, you know, how to raise capital class.

So ideally, you know, about somewhere between 30 and 50, students are engaging with those types of classes each semester. And then on top of that, the other programs that I alluded to are entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship class. Davidson class sizes are very small, compared to other, you know, larger universities. So we have room for 16 students a semester to participate in those classes.

Venkat Raman  42:25  

Okay, great. I mean, yeah, those you know, at the end of the day, that's the retail programming that's going to work for you, right? I mean, so the Right, right, right? Because those are the people who go out into the world with all that knowledge, and hopefully, skills that they can put to use.

Venkat Raman  42:48  

What's next for The Hub then? Where are you guys headed?

Liz B  42:51  [Where is the Hub Headed?]

Sure. So you know, when I came in, a lot of my career, I will say is coming into things that are there's something there, there's a lot of goodness that has been started and then sort of formalizing and scaling. And so that's really where, where we are with the hub, we had a really great start, obviously COVID interrupted that, but gave us an opportunity to pivot and innovate.

And so the next few things that we're focused on are really formalizing our educational strategy. We have a woman on my team that hired in in June to focus on this, and she's built out this framework called the Entrepreneurial Pursuit kind of playing off of Trivial Pursuit, as it were, yeah, thinking about, you know, what are the classes that we're offering at the core things like I mentioned, you know, Lean Startup, but then what are all the other main aspects of becoming a successful entrepreneur and innovator, everything from wellness and mental health, to you know, prototyping and design thinking and all those aspects. And so we're we are building out and really taking a look at as well.

There's so many wonderful resources across Davidson's campus. We're trying to be smart about partnerships across campus, and then also with other groups. I think I mentioned before launch lkn is that kind of regional partner that's focused on mentorship and driving a lot of economic growth in the area. So where can we collaborate? Where can we consolidate work and be more efficient in those resources, and then be a springboard or you know, more of a microphone for other other programs that certainly fit into what we think is the entrepreneurial pursuit or that entrepreneurial mindset, but and then fill in the gaps with with what we need to put together.

Scaling the gig hub program is frankly, you know, another big strategic focus for us. I really do believe that smart, driven, gritty Davidson students with a lot of perseverance need to be in the places where we can solve the hardest problems in this world. And so while you know there's a lot of opportunities, certainly in investment banking and money Management Consulting. And those are two wonderful paths. I think there's so much more opportunity as well for us to drive economic development within our communities by working in startups and small businesses. And so we want to provide that going back to access and exposure to students at the same time, they're really getting that practical experience. And so they can determine what the best path is for them. And you know, those so that is those from a, you know, programming perspective, that's what we're really focused on.

The other piece is deeper corporate partnerships and support again, not just from a monetary perspective, but actually co creating experiences that you might only see at the graduate level, but bring that to our undergrad. So things like working on a psychology practicum this spring, we're going to launch a 13 week consulting engagement with one of our most tenured professors in organizational development, but working with Davidson alums who are running HR departments at you know, smaller businesses or midsize businesses in and around Charlotte, so that they get that hands on experience, we build that relationship with with local employers, and again, give students that experiential learning opportunity to kind of take what they're learning in the classroom out and apply that.

Venkat Raman  46:18  

No, this is this is awesome.

Now, does, you know your learnings, as you go forward, Would that flow back into the college curriculum, programs that you might, you know, that the college might think of investing in or starting as a result of what you learned? I mean, I'm just thinking, are there gaps? Are there things that students might be better positioned, if they were equipped with certain skills, things of that nature?

Liz B  46:49  

It's a good question I, I always, I very much subscribe, as I've said before, to the liberal arts, education and making sure that we're preserving everything that the Davidson experience is, again, I'm not I don't ever want to purport to build a business school or bringing some of those back. But I think I do think the, the high impact experiential learning opportunities are something that we're starting to see a lot more interest in and sort of expansion across our curriculum. So really looking for those opportunities to integrate more into some classrooms I saying, oh, okay, you're in a theater class. Wonderful. Why don't we take a look at the recent most recent pitches from TechCrunch, disrupt, or from South by Southwest or something, and, you know, and break those down and analyze the sort of theatricality or the storytelling around pitching for, you know, for funding, you think things like that, where, like I said, before, putting two seemingly disparate things back together, and bringing that to life in a different way. So more from an example or project perspective and incorporating that into Davidson's really, you know, outstanding liberal arts curriculum.

Venkat Raman  48:07  

I thought it'd be a good idea to end with some advice to high schoolers. You know, innovation is a big theme. Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur today. And what are the kinds of skills you think that high schoolers need to start thinking about, or cultivating? What would your advice to them be?

Liz B  48:38  [Advice for Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs]

Sure, I, you know, with this celebritization of Silicon Valley, for lack of a better phrase, there's, you know, and obviously, that shows up in, in, in art, and in reality, I think, yeah, there's there's a lot of focus on engineering skills on the product itself.

But in all of my experience in business, whether it was you know, a startup or or Disney at the end of the day, a business is fundamentally about changing people's behavior, you're trying to move people to stop doing or using or whatever they are doing today and use your product or do your thing or join your event or all that, incidentally, it's really about people. So more of a focus on I would say, with my English major, I read all of this literature across, you know, from the Middle Ages to the present day, and all of it was about learning what motivates individuals and characters, how do they act in certain situations?

And, you know, if they're incentivized in a certain way, how is that going to make them change their behavior, or what have you, and the ability to distill and analyze and kind of break down all that literature into this is the thesis This is the cogent argument that you're putting forth. It's really what I think is so important in business building.

You are the most Important thing is the alchemy of your teams. You are not you know, maybe you're a solopreneur, that that's a thing.

But if you're really looking to build a sustainable business is about people that you hire, it's about people that are your customers or your clients, or your users of your app or other things. So I would really focus on empathy, and opportunities to get to know people better.

And to be able to communicate that, take the theater class, get outside your comfort zone, go do debate.

Because everything is about storytelling, like I said, you are trying to convince somebody to change the behavior. And so you need to be really compelling with the words you choose with, how you disseminate that information. And where you choose to disseminate, disseminate that information.

So I may be biased, but when it comes down to anything, it's about people and storytelling. So those are the things that I would really focus on.

Venkat Raman  50:58  

No, that's, that's great advice. I myself, you know, this whole podcast thing, I believe, it is all about storytelling. Because, you know, the more you can hear firsthand, the better off you are. No, this has been awesome. Liz, I thank you so much for taking the time and walking me through The Hurt Hub and all that it means and look forward to more conversations, but for now, take care be safe. Thank you so much.

Liz B  51:31  

Thank you. Loved it.

Venkat  51:41  [Wrap up]

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Liz Brigham on Davidson College’s Jay Hurt Hub.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • The Hurt Hub is bringing the discipline of innovation and entrepreneurship to Davidson’s Liberal Arts students;
  • The Hub’s impact is not limited to the students and faculty alone, but also the alumni and the entire community around Davidson College.

I hope this podcast inspires you to explore Davidson College further for your undergraduate study.

For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io].

Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

College Podcast, Davidson College, Innovation, The Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Liz Brigham, Elizabeth Brigham, Entrepreneurship, Liberal Arts, US Colleges, College Admissions, Entrepreneurial Pursuit, undergraduate, startup

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