Innovate and don’t break things.
That message resonated with a crowd of nearly 600 members of the Dartmouth community who gathered September 7 in San Francisco for the annual Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF).
It was Hany Farid who delivered this cautionary message as keynote speaker. Farid, a Dartmouth computer science professor, has devoted much of his career to combating the grim side of the digital world including fake news, extremism, and child pornography.
Previous mottos of entrepreneurs – move fast and break things or move slow and apologize – just don’t work anymore, he said. “Take note young people in the room, if you don’t think a small group of people can change the world, they can and probably will,” Farid said. “The industry is going to get regulated and it’s going to get really bad for the industry. You have to figure this out on your own and it has to get better.”
Six years since DEF launched in San Francisco, this alumni “startup” event has been highly innovative. The annual gathering has found firm footing, with strong support from sponsors and a growing, enthusiastic audience ready to network and discuss the hottest topics in entrepreneurship.
DEF started with another small group of entrepreneurs. Jeff Crowe ’78, managing partner at Norwest Venture Partners and a Dartmouth trustee, gathered some Dartmouth alumni for networking and conversation. The event has continued to grow ever since and is one of the largest gatherings of Dartmouth alumni outside of Hanover.
“This year’s forum was another smash hit,” said Crowe. “With nearly 600 registrants from around the globe, our largest crowd ever, the forum was a testament to the Dartmouth community’s passion and enthusiasm for all things entrepreneurial. Combined with the exciting news regarding the fundraising for the Magnuson Center, the forum shows a lot of momentum for entrepreneurship at Dartmouth.”
Only five months earlier, Dartmouth established the Magnuson Family Center for Entrepreneurship, with a lead gift from Allison and Rick Magnuson ’79, the founder and executive managing director of private equity firm GI Partners. The Magnusons have pledged $20 million toward the creation of the center, part of an overall $40 million investment to infuse entrepreneurship across the Dartmouth campus through endowed funding.
Chair of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees Laurel Richie ’81 and Dean of Thayer and incoming Provost Joe Helble explained how the new Center will expand on the groundwork laid by the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network and the success of Dartmouth’s global alumni entrepreneurial community from across all five schools.
Much of that momentum was on display during a full day of panel presentations. Kayak Co-Founder and CEO Steve Hafner ’91 headlined the event. A panel on urban transportation examined the implications for cities amid a rise in ride and bike sharing. Young alumni working in blockchain shed light on cryptocurrencies. And Mike Mader ’92, CEO of Smartsheet, presented with investor Matt McIlwain ’87 of Madrona Ventures on how they went from zero to IPO.
Panelists spoke of success and failure, risk and reward, love and loathing of social media, and of disrupting the status quo. It seemed everyone has a story of finding a funder, co-founder, or mentor as a result of the event.
Prior to the forum, 49 students and alumni tapped into the expertise of alumni who flew in from around the country to mentor them and provide guidance for their startups.
“I don’t have to know it all,” said Maia Josebachvili ’05, head of people at Stripe. “There are a lot of smart people around me who can share their expertise and wisdom. When I started I didn’t know what a business was. I remember DEN as the first place where I discovered that there were people who knew how to start a business. I just cold called them and reached out to them. There’s a lot of great people willing to share information.”
View photos of the event on Flickr.