How a Perfect Cup of Coffee Helps Make Babson College No. 1 in Entrepreneurship
Guest post by Keith Rollag, Professor and Dean-Elect of the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business (starting July 1, 2018)
Once again we’re honored that U.S. News & World Report has named Babson College’s graduate school No. 1 in Entrepreneurship for the 25th consecutive year.
Our “silver anniversary” is a special achievement given that our perennial competition (MIT and Stanford) are such prestigious schools with ample resources. We’re proud that as a tiny, private business school in the Boston suburbs we can hold our own with these academic giants.
Why have we been able to stay No. 1 for so long? Certainly, part of it comes from a first mover advantage. We were one of the first schools to have an entrepreneurship program, and our Babson College Entrepreneurial Research Conference continues to be a major forum for scholarship in the discipline. Through our Symposium for Entrepreneurship Education we also have been “teaching the teachers” in hundreds of academic institutions across the globe.
But ultimately I think our success and lasting power comes from our students, and the energy they bring to the Babson community through their eagerness to learn and their drive to create new ventures, lead new initiatives, and change the world. Here is an excellent example:
Last year I co-taught Leading Entrepreneurially Action Project (LEAP), a year-long, experiential course that combines entrepreneurship, product design, and leadership. A few weeks into the course all students make “rocket pitches” of their most promising ideas, and the best opportunities became student-led ventures.
Chloris Yang MSEL’17 was a bit nervous as she pitched her idea for a mug that could keep coffee at the perfect temperature. Through her family’s business she had access to a special material (designed for the Chinese space program) that could be manufactured to melt at a desired temperature. She thought that if she could obtain material that melted at 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 deg. C) and embed it in the walls of a coffee mug, it might keep coffee at the perfect drinking temperature for a long time.
Soon she found herself leading three other students as they started developing this idea. Every two weeks they had to make an informal “pinup” presentation to the faculty teaching team where they would summarize progress and get feedback on their efforts.
Initially they explored other potential uses for this special material before returning to the original idea of a coffee mug. To create their first prototype they took an off-the-shelf commuter mug, put a Red Bull can inside, and then packed their special material in between the two containers.
The prototype did an excellent job of cooling and keeping coffee at a perfect temperature, but it was so crude and ugly that in consumer testing outside a local ice cream shop nobody was willing to drink coffee out of it!
Undaunted, they worked with a supplier to get a more “polished” prototype made, and a few weeks later were in downtown Boston at Quincy Market (a tourist shopping mecca) testing their prototype with passerby’s. People were amazed at their demo and several “customers” were ready to order a coffee mug on the spot.
By the end of the course the team had developed a launch plan and were working with product designers and manufacturers to create a viable product. After graduation, Chloris and several of her classmates continued to move the business forward as part of Babson’s Summer Venture Program. They named the new business Thero.
Last October, after finalizing their product design, they launched a KickStarter campaign to build awareness. Their goal was to raise $30,000 in four weeks. They reached 40 percent of their goal in the first 72 hours and ended up raising over $62,000 from 888 backers. Currently they are awaiting their first shipment of finished product and are negotiating distribution deals with coffee retailers.
It was a joy and honor to watch this opportunity go from rocket pitch to reality in less than a year. And it is by no means unique – every year we have dozens of entrepreneurs who start businesses before or just after graduation. Some grow to be major successes – for example, ’99 alum Jamie Siminoff founded the internet doorbell company Ring, which was recently acquired by Amazon for over $1 billion.
While financial success is good, the best part of these student ventures is the energy and learning they bring to campus. Stop by Olin Hall and you will inevitably see students chatting with classmates, faculty, alumni, entrepreneurs, and investors about their ideas for new business and social ventures.
That energy and enthusiasm and the entrepreneurial culture it helps nurture throughout the entire Babson community (and beyond) is what has kept us No. 1 in Entrepreneurship for 25 consecutive years. We’re here for our students, and in turn they keep us motivated and excited about the future.
And I encourage you to check out the Thero coffee mug. It really works, and I suspect the founders are in for a very fun, exciting ride…