Faculty & Leadership Blog / Innovative Curriculum

3 Entrepreneurs = 10 Big Student Take-Aways on Law & Innovation in Human Resources

Danielle Goldman of Open Avenues, Brandale Randolph of 1854 Cycling, and Kevin Loos of CrowdComfort recently spoke on the value of legal astuteness with students, shared emotionally resonant backstories that explain their drive, and highlighted resources in our local start-up ecosystem, including the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL) at Babson, Greentown Labs, and Mass Challenge.

They were invited to speak together because they all built businesses upon innovative approaches to human resource issues. Here are their full titles, linked again to their Linked In profiles:            

Danielle Goldman, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Open Avenues

Kevin Loos, Co-Founder & VP of Sales and Operations, CrowdComfort (Babson MBA alumnus)

Brandale Randolph, Founder CEO of The 1854 Cycling Company

Previous classes focused more on business formationIPcontracting, and tort liability. Below are student take-aways, organized by common themes that they described, supported by quotes (some have been lightly edited for readability):

Legal astuteness – in the case of Danielle’s company, understanding public laws well – can lead to new business models (several students noted this):

“I thought all three companies were interesting. Danielle Goldman of Open Avenues discussed how their company helps foreign nationals advance in the innovation industry by astutely working within the rules governing the granting of H-1B visas.”

“By understanding a sort of loophole in immigration law, Danielle was able to imagine a new business model that helps American companies, talented foreigners, and the building of future talent pipelines.”

Who is in a protected class (and who is not) matters, otherwise discrimination may be legal:

“I really enjoyed all three of tonight’s speakers. I loved Brandale’s company and its mission. During his presentation, I came to better understand what a ‘protected class’ is. A protected class is a group of employees that is protected from employment discrimination by law.”

“Brandale Randolph of 1854 Cycling Company discussed that organizations who discriminate against people with criminal records can (depending on the state) be subject to litigation. Brandale is creating living wage, technical jobs to the previously incarcerated in Massachusetts. They have three design patents and are working on developing a biometrics patent, where the data talks with the bike.”

“My take away today is related to discrimination against employees and the level of information the company may collect about them. I was surprised to hear about the level of restriction companies have when hiring people with a criminal record, no matter the size of the company.”

Some appreciated the potential significance of hiring independent contractors vs. employees:

CrowdComfort’s human sensor network mitigates risk for companies and drives productivity and employee engagement through their connected workplace interface. Kevin Loos mentioned they have four patents on their crowd sourcing and geo-sourcing platforms. California passed a law which limits the use of classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees. With employment practice litigation increasing, I’m curious about the impact of contract workers and employee classification in the tech industry.”

On the value of documentation and being careful with language in the employment context:

“I found this class to be very directly related to my current role at Cengage. From the reading in the Siedel text, my interview with Cengage’s Employment Counsel, and Brandale’s company story, there is a strong consistent theme emerging that is valuable to remember. This idea centers on the need for deliberate documentation across all levels of someone’s employment regarding: pre-hire language, feedback language, and termination language. This will ensure that an organization is not facing more exposure to risk than necessary.”

Tort liability came up again – and the importance of warnings:

“Brandale’s 1854 Cycling Company has been able to keep the company focused on technology innovation and their mission to serve minority women by proactively addressing potential liability concerns such as warning stickers on their bikes alerting users not to dismount while moving (product liability – negligence) as well as giving bike users ownership of their data produced on the bikes (duty of care to protect data). These were great real life examples!”

Some noted the link between cultural diversity and innovation:

“Talent is a top priority for most executives today. With such a low unemployment rate, solving for the issue of qualified talent is a big task. … data shows that there’s a direct correlation between innovation and cultural diversity.”        

Some noted the connection between the assigned readings and what our guests described:

“According to Siedel, ‘after you make the strategic decision to continue a product line (or service), you should review your organization’s structure.’ The speakers all highlighted some kind of review process that occurred in their business. For example, Mr. Randolph had to think of adjusting which materials he uses because of tariffs, and in the process of doing so a new idea was birthed: to use recycled materials to make revolutionary bicycles for police officers. Another takeaway is to become legally savvy about product liability, which was evident when Brandale said their bikes had to include ‘idiot stickers’ that   read ‘do not dismount the bike while it is in motion.’ Finally, one should become legally savvy about employment law, which was demonstrated in the Open Avenues business plan.”

Stay aware of potential defamation:

“I found managing defamation and what could be considered defamation a critical issue for companies and individuals not to disregard. Siedel explores a few instances of defamation in his text. I was blown away by what may be considered defamation (or steps that companies may take, as a matter of policy, to avoid accusations of defamation).”

Some reflected later on the potential of some technological innovations to change power dynamics:

“Upon reflection, I wonder whether Kevin Loos, founder of CrowdComfort, thinks that open information and communication platforms related to building maintenance and safety issues has the potential to create a shift of power between the corporation and employees?” 

Another theme that repeated from previous sessions: don’t assume something is non-negotiable, and, again, legal astuteness can help you imagine new business models:

“A few general takeaways I got from this class included how a lack of public regulation can serve as a business opportunity, and that standards can provide a foundation for bargaining. … It was really fascinating to see an example first hand of how modern immigration law, which I imagined to be entirely rigid, has business opportunities within it.”