Author: Elwyn Pratt
Occidental, the college without a business department, is attempting to bring business to campus in a new way. But a new club on campus, Oxypreneurship, intends to approach the idea in an entirely new way.
Having started as a discussion among faculty members, the club will have four main functions: invite speakers to campus, plan 48-hour task force events, offer academic and monetary resources for student projects and build strong relationships between alumni and the Occidental community.
Alex Keat (sophomore) drafted the constitution for Oxypreneurship last week. “As a club, we want to affect every part of people’s lives with innovative thinking. At least that’s the plan. A lot of students come to a liberal arts college, and they want an education, and at the end of the day they’re wondering, ‘Well, what am I supposed to do with this? How can I actually apply this?’ So you take that energy and you give students the space, the resources and the fire to do amazing things,” Keat said.
The club’s roster currently includes six alumni and four administrators. ”Hopefully we will be pulling together professors, alumni, students and administrators into the same room, working on the same problems and building relationships,” Keat said.
Professor Sanjeev Khagram, who joined Occidental’s faculty this year, helped develop the idea for Oxypreneurship after Keat was in one of his Diplomacy and World Affairs classes. Khagram will serve as Oxypreneurship’s faculty advisor.
“We need an entrepreneurial revolution in the world, and we at Oxy can do some great things. And entrepreneurship runs across sectors. We want political entrepreneurs, foreign policy entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in the private and non-profit social sector. For me the goal [of the club] is to have a higher percent of our students, in any department, go out in the world and believe in themselves and have the confidence to become entrepreneurs,” Khagram said.
The idea for Oxypreneurship began with faculty. Shelby Radcliffe, Occidental’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement, was in the early discussion making process. ”Very shortly after I started [working at Occidental], Dave Berkus approached me and asked me about a business plan competition, and I said, ‘Let me see if there are other people interested in this,'” Radcliffe said.
Several individuals did express interest and were connected with each other through Radcliffe. These individuals include alumnus Kevin Adler and Daniel Chamberlain of the Center for Digital Learning and Research. The idea has since evolved. Radcliffe will serve the club by continuing to facilitate connections between faculty and alumni.
Dave Berkus ’62, having long served as a member of the Occidental Board of Trustees, will have a role in the club. “Coaching entrepreneurship is part of what I do,” Berkus said. His ever-expanding resume includes being an investor or board member of over 60 companies since 1993. “I don’t anticipate playing a major role for the club,” Berkus said. “But I will be a resource.”
Berkus has been a venture capitalist since his days in college. ”When I was a student at Occidental, I was an entrepreneur in a lonely desert. I would love to see students be able to gain knowledge and contacts for their business careers during college,” Berkus said.
Berkus, having witnessed the failed attempts of many clubs before Oxypreneurship, proposed two factors as being essential to the success of the club. “The model for one of these factors is the Blithe Fund, and that’s having a Board of Trustees,” Berkus said. “Having trustees means that it is an honor to join the organization. The second is continuity. Students move
through the college in four year cycles, and we need something more permanent.”
Keat sees Oxypreneurship as an entrepreneurial venture. ”I see [the club] as the biggest collaboration between students, administration, professors and alumni to have ever existed at Oxy. It’s the next step for the school, and it’s an important step,” Keat said. “But this club will fail. And fail and fail and fail. But that’s key. Failure is a stepping stone to success. It’s something that entrepreneurs value so much and that innovation values so much. But giving students the space to fail and the opportunity to build relationships and at the end of the day have everything be okay, if not better, is something that can be really powerful. There’s something to be gained for anyone who’s interested.”
Oxypreneurship meets Mondays in Room 124 of the Norton Clapp Library at 8:15 pm. Join the club Google Group at bit.ly/Ubvfb4. For more information, e-mail Alex Keat at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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