Alumni Mentors Inspire Student Entrepreneurs in Thought Into Action Seminar

From designing iPhone apps to creating foreign language literary magazines, nine budding entrepreneurs at Andover are learning how to turn their dreams into reality through Thought into Action (TIA), a pilot program that connects students with alumni who give them advice about their own projects and ideas. Student participants in the program, which was founded by Wills Hapworth ’02, have met monthly with 15 alumni mentors to discuss the business process. “TIA is simply a platform on which any student with an idea, can find the inspiration, mentorship and guidance, resources and support to make the idea a reality. After all, the only way we really change and improve the world is by doing,” wrote Hapworth in an e-mail to The Phillipian. “[For the alumni mentors, TIA is] a way to give back–leveraging their own talents and expertise and sharing it with ambitious students at such a critical stage in their development. It just feels good to give back like this, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve received an update from a TIA entrepreneur about some success or breakthrough that has totally made my day,” Hapworth added. Deborah Murphy, Director of Alumni Affairs, worked with Hapworth to bring the program to Andover. “The alumni know how busy [students] are here and remember what life is like here very well, but it was helpful to have me there as sort of the link between the two. “[The program] is a wonderful way for alumni to get involved and give back and connect with students and share their expertise,” said Murphy. “Student entrepreneurs in the program learn the survival skills necessary to execute their ideas, which involve building teams, navigating road blocks and failures, asking for support and funding, partnering [and] optimizing [their] service or product,” Hapworth also wrote. Each of the student-alumni meetings has had a different focus to provide the students with a range of perspectives and approaches to starting their business, according to MJ Engel ’13, a TIA participant. At one meeting, the students discussed how to gain support for their project and build a constituency. At another meeting, two guest entrepreneurs, Eric Adams and Thomas Krueger, of startup company NovaPlanner pitched one of their real projects to the students, according to Eric Ouyang ’13, a TIA participant. Acting as potential investors, the students discussed whether to back the project. Murphy believes the direct and honest feedback from the alumni has been particularly helpful to the students. “The alumni were pretty tough on them, but I think in the end the kids were really appreciative of that and really grew from it. It will prepare these kids for life,” she said. Using the advice and skills they acquired throughout the program, the student participants developed a variety of projects. Engel worked to create Andover Answers, a forum-based question and answer website designed specifically for Andover students. Engel first came up with the idea for the website as part of her platform for Upper Representative, and she currently is testing the site for bugs before the site’s launch. Engel said the program allowed her to learn the technical aspects of website building, such as how to obtain a domain and how to buy a server. “[TIA] was helpful because I could talk to people who had gone through web design initiatives professionally. [The mentors] were really great resources. They had a lot of advice to give, and they shared their experiences and their mistakes with me to help me develop my own project,” she said. Charlotte Aaron ’14 launched Intoprep, a social site that aims to connect prep school students in the Northeast, according to the TIA website. The site currently features polls about prep school life, photos submitted by students and video interviews with students. This fall, Gregory Hosono ’14 and Makenzie Schwartz ’14 launched iAndover, a mobile application for the iPhone, and decided to participate in the TIA program to further develop their project. Hosono also collaborated with Ouyang to create Sponsr.Us, a social fundraising platform combined with a mentorship network that aims to support student initiatives. The program plans to rely on small donations from many people to fund projects proposed by high school and college students. Through TIA, Apsara Iyer ’12 hopes to create “Student Approved,” a website would allow users to post reviews of non-profit and social enterprise organizations that accept youth volunteers. Rani Iyer ’15 is planning an extracurricular science program for middle schoolers designed to increase students’ interest in science through hands-on experiments, by allowing students to visit laboratories and prepare for science fairs, according to the TIA website. Combining their passion for foreign language and literature, Angela Leocata ’13 and Haonan Li ’13 are collaborating to create “Voice Magazine,” Andover’s first foreign language magazine, through TIA. On April 28, TIA participants had the opportunity to present their projects to the Alumni Council. Ouyang said, “[Presenting to the Alumni Council] was definitely a really good opportunity to pitch our ideas in front of a large audience and potentially find some people who are interested in helping us out.” This year was the TIA program’s first at Andover. “I think that, [this being] the first year, there was a very steep learning curve, so some things worked, some things didn’t work, and over the year we have learned a lot,” said Hosono. Murphy said, “There is definitely going to be some tweaking and things done slightly differently [next year].” Murphy predicts that TIA will expand next year. Based on the number of e-mails she has received from students interested in participating in the program, she estimates that there will be between 15 and 20 projects next year, compared to this year’s seven. Before bringing TIA to Andover, Hapworth helped start a similar program called Colgate Investors at Colgate University, his alma mater. He also currently runs DarkHorse Investors, a “non-profit mentor fund that collaborates with and seeds college entrepreneurs,” according to the organization’s website. “[I brought the program to Andover because] there is a natural affinity among Andover alumni for the high school that taught them to think and do. It seems only natural that a wealth of entrepreneurial Andover alums would come out of the woodwork to engage with students in such a meaningful way,” wrote Hapworth.