A few weeks ago, the McDonough School of Business, based on a gift from the Leonsis family, announced the opening of the Georgetown Venture Lab, a facility within the space of WeWork White House, just a baseball throw from the White House.
The purpose of the site is to provide current students and alumni a space to develop their new enterprises. Most of these have the goal of offering a new product or service, in hopes of building an organization, bringing on employees, and making a profit. Some are oriented to social entrepreneurship, probing ways that health, economic, or cultural needs might be fulfilled through a self-sustaining nonprofit organization.
Georgetown Venture Lab is large open environment room, with lines of desks and nearby seating areas. Like all WeWork spaces, it exudes energy of innovation and sharp thinking. Ideation seems the coin of the realm.
At the current time, there are 28 different enterprises that are pursuing their dreams, from an organization offering pop-up HIV screening in underserved areas to an organization using artificial intelligence approaches to negotiating a purchase of an automobile. Some, by virtue of sharing space, have started unanticipated collaborations.
My visit to the Venture Lab was prompted by the annual award ceremony of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Alliance (GEA), a group of alumni who themselves are entrepreneurs, or who are devoted to supporting entrepreneurs. Members of the GEA seek to connect student entrepreneurs to knowledgeable alumni who could support them.
The awardees varied from those in the class of 1988 to those in the class of 2016. The entrepreneur of the year was Doug Bouton, a mathematics and theology major, graduating in 2007, finishing law school in 2010. In his acceptance address, he told his story of discovering that a career in law was not fulfilling, despite helping him pay off large law school debts. Quitting a large firm after a little more than a year, with no other source of income, he began his plans for an ice cream manufacturing company. The early days were bleak, with repeated failures to launch and increasing debts. But the story gradually changed and in 2017, his ice cream was named one of Time magazine’s “inventions of the year.” Now Halo Top ice cream is one of the fastest growing consumer products in the country. Doug’s was a story of courage in discovering one’s authentic self, perseverance, and success.
What was common to all the acceptance speakers was spontaneous reflection about what a Georgetown education meant to them. It was about the values that they felt they learned at Georgetown. For many they saw their companies as the manifestation of those values, either in the services they offered, the actions of their company within their community, the employee culture they were attempting to build, or even their aspirations for their own behavior as an entrepreneurial leader. Making money was indeed important for the sustenance of the enterprise; doing good, however, was an explicit goal.
Prior to the award ceremony, I spoke with several students interested in entrepreneurship as a life’s work. One said something that stuck with me: “What attracts me is how much creativity is catalyzed when you have nothing to start with.” The pleasure of invention and the creative act was the motivation for that student.
It’s wonderful that Georgetown has the Venture Lab, as a home for such creativity.