"I’d like to thank the Academy ..."

Six students won Grinspoon awards for their new businesses, highlighting Mount Holyoke’s commitment to entrepreneurship.

By Kathleen Mellen

When Mariana Jaramillo ’20 walked into her first Social Entrepreneurship class last fall at Mount Holyoke College, the film studies major had no idea that before the day was over, she would be the co-founder of a fledgling T-shirt company. Nor did she imagine that by the end of the academic year, she would win an award for her budding business acumen. 

But she did — along with five other Mount Holyoke students — at the Grinspoon Entrepreneurship Institute Banquet, a program of the Grinspoon Entrepreneurship Initiative, held April 25 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. They were among 80 competitors from 16 colleges and universities, nominated by their faculty. 

Jaramillo, religion major Kate Meacham ’20 and theatre arts major Rosie Xu ’19 won concept awards, while Regina Ye ’18 (computer science) and Shay Lahon ’18 (biology) won spirit awards. 

Additionally, international relations major Inayat Gill ’19 won a Pitch Award at the banquet, after presenting her plans for a business called ZAP!, an app that students can use to order food delivery from students who have cars. 

Each of the awards came with a cash prize. 

The Mount Holyoke winners were nominated by Rick Feldman, a lecturer in entrepreneurship, organizations and society, a new interdisciplinary minor that aims to build entrepreneurial competence among Mount Holyoke students to effect positive transformations in business, nonprofits and society. 

Interest in entrepreneurship has blossomed in the past decade, said Feldman, and the College’s developing entrepreneurship curriculum answers the growing demand among students for education in the field. Feldman also serves as the entrepreneurship coordinator. 

“We’re finding ways for students who have an interest in business and organization to have opportunity here,” he said. “After only four semesters, our program is a leader in education and action, as we continue to develop a pedagogy, curriculum, research agenda and action arena to refine entrepreneurship in a social context and at a liberal arts institution.” 

Entrepreneurship as a field fits in perfectly in today’s economy, Feldman said, and Mount Holyoke is the place to learn it: Students frequently win recognition for their work in entrepreneurship and business. That’s because the liberal arts offer the perfect preparation. 

“Classic liberal arts is a cornerstone, a foundation for everything,” Feldman said. “If we look at what the learning goals are for liberal arts — critical thinking, writing and speaking skills, analytical skills, creativity, having a diverse background in literature, philosophy, economics, sociology — that’s what the corporate world needs.” 

Starting a start-up 

Jaramillo felt nonplussed that first day of class, when Feldman, the professor, told students they would be running a business before the semester was through. 

“I thought, ‘This is crazy,’ ” Jaramillo said. “I had no idea how I was going to do that.” 

But by the end of the course, she and economics major Ruth Ossenag FP’19 had, indeed, formed a company, Liberales, and were selling T-shirts on campus. 

Encouraged by their success, Jaramillo joined the College’s 130-member Entrepreneurship Club, which hosts speakers and workshops — and is a great place for networking, she noted. 

She also signed up for another class with Feldman, Entrepreneurship Capstone, in the spring, and formed a second business, Dig it Media — a small marketing concern with an emphasis on social media — for which she won the Grinspoon award. Her first client is ZIRUI Go, a successful travel cosmetics business run by Ye, who also started her enterprise in one of Feldman’s classes. 

Support across the board 

Mount Holyoke students and recent graduates now have social enterprises and social entrepreneurship plans in several countries including Malawi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Pakistan, India, Morocco, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, the United States, South Africa and Kenya. And through a program collaboration, the entrepreneurship minor and the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives have awarded seed grants to six of these startup social enterprises. 

Indeed, Feldman says, the strength of the program lies in its interdisciplinary nature, with participation across departments. It also has received enthusiastic support from alumnae, he added, many of whom have started their own businesses. 

“More than 200 students have enrolled in our courses,” he said. “This past year alone, 140 students took five entrepreneurship courses and more than a dozen created independent-study projects. Turns out there are students every major who want to look at business opportunities and organization.” 

Jaramillo, a film studies major, appreciates the interdisciplinary approach, she said. 

“You can be from any major and there is a professional application for that,” she said. Through her minor in the program, she added, she has gained a broader perspective: “If you think about something as an entrepreneur, you’re thinking about how to apply what you’re learning in class to the real world.” 

Indeed, as entrepreneurship develops and expands its curricular and cocurricular programming, it is linking the College to what Feldman calls an “ecosystem of entrepreneurship and business.” 

“We need to develop a lot of things for women in business,” he said. “The infrastructure for investing is very weak and small compared to investing in male-owned companies, and women need to start having a better network. We have to build that up. This is the place to start.”