Alumni get in the entrepreneurial spirit at annual campus assembly

“Yale is a way more entrepreneurial place than it is sometimes perceived to be, and we want to showcase the breadth and depth of entrepreneurship and innovation on campus and among alumni,” says Darcy Troy Pollack ’87 about this week’s annual assembly of the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) Nov. 13-15. 

Pollack, an executive officer of the AYA’s board of governors, is chair of Assembly LXXIV, titled “The Entrepreneurial Spirit at Yale.” It will bring together nearly 500 alumni delegates, and invited guests for a full program of keynote lectures, hands-on demonstrations, fireside chats, and even a campus version of “Shark Tank.”

The assembly is the preeminent leadership information and development program for alumni volunteer leaders. As outlined by the AYA Constitution, it brings a body of delegates who serve as representatives of the alumni community back to Yale for an annual gathering on the weekend of the last home football game in November. On Thursday of the assembly, delegates focus on a particular aspect of life at Yale – such as entrepreneurship this year. On Friday, sessions focus on leadership development for alumni volunteers and their organizations. The alumni association hosts a special Alumni Village tailgate at the Yale Bowl on Saturday as the assembly closes.

“Our assembly follows the lead of President Peter Salovey, who is fostering an even more innovative Yale,” says Lise P. Chapman ’81 M.B.A., chair of the alumni association board. “Many in the extended Yale alumni network are not yet fully aware that Yale has become a national leader in entrepreneurial thought and practice. During this assembly, we will give top alumni volunteer leaders a sense of the astonishing activity underway at Yale so that they can share it even more broadly.”

The 2013 alumni assembly — focused on the New Haven renaissance — shared some of the ways in which entrepreneurship is making a difference in the local economy. For example, with assistance from Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research, over 50 companies based on faculty inventions made at Yale have collectively raised $5 billion in equity capital in the last 15 years, with more than half of these firms located in the New Haven region.

This year’s assembly will shine additional spotlights on the growing success of campus initiatives such as the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) and the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID). It will also herald the increase of entrepreneurship in the university curriculum led by the School of Management (SOM), which has expanded entrepreneurial programming as part of its growth in its new campus at Evans Hall. Many undergraduate, graduate, and professional student entrepreneurs will join Yale leaders such as Jim Boyle ’94 Ph.D. of YEI, Eric Dufresne ’96 of CEID, Kyle Jensen of SOM, and their professional colleagues, for presentations during the assembly. The extensive involvement of students and the range of disciplines represented will make this assembly one of the most inter-disciplinary and inter-generational, according to organizers. Both President Salovey ’86 Ph.D. and Linda Koch Lorimer ’77 J.D., vice president for global and strategic initiatives, will also address the delegates during their time on campus.

Many alumni entrepreneurs will return to campus for the assembly, including Kevin Ryan ’85, a Yale trustee and founder and chair of the e-commerce company GILT, who will speak on “Yale and the Global Entrepreneurial Movement.” Victor Wong ’11, co-founder and CEO of the online media company Paper G, will share his story “From the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.” Wong is also co-founder of the new Yale Entrepreneurs and Investors Network that held an inaugural conference in San Francisco in May with more than 200 Yale alumni entrepreneurs and guests.

Alumni and student entrepreneurs will be paired for six fireside chats to discuss entrepreneurship in education, sustainability, healthcare and life sciences, high-tech software development, entertainment, and social impact. In the “Shark Tank” feature of the assembly, representatives from five on-campus student ventures will each get to pitch their work to the audience and a panel of judges, with the winning venture awarded a working lunch with Ryan.

The alumni association assembly will also include celebrations of outstanding alumni group achievement, individual volunteer achievement, and exemplary service to society and to Yale, with the presentation of the AYA Volunteer Leadership Awards, the Yale-Jefferson Public Service Awards, and the Yale Medal. Watch YaleNews for stories about each of these award programs.

On Friday morning, Nov. 14, delegates will gather for a keynote plenary, moderated by Mark Dollhopf ’77, executive director of the alumni association, to celebrate alumni volunteers, review success metrics from the AYA’s strategic plans, recap programs from the past year, preview upcoming events and initiatives, and share ideas amongst the broad range of class, school, regional, and shared interested groups that comprise the alumni network.

The assembly comes as the alumni association and its constituent groups have expanded the scope of alumni relations in recent years. In the year since the last assembly, for example, there have been record-setting Yale College reunions and a record-setting reunion for a residential college; a celebration of the sesquicentennial of the first regional Yale group; Yale Alumni Service Corps initiatives in the United States, India, and Ghana and increased participation in the annual Yale Day of Service; social media summits in New York City and in San Francisco; an alumni production of an iconic musical in New Haven’s historic Shubert Theater; major events by the Association of Asian American Yale Alumni, YaleWomen, and the Afro-American Cultural Center that brought hundreds of alumni back to campus with shared interest groups; and many other highlights in New Haven and around the world.

The assembly will also demonstrate how entrepreneurial spirit animates the alumni association itself, note the organizers. As delegates share the work accomplished since the last assembly and their plans for the year ahead, the scope of initiatives will demonstrate what Chapman said when the board of governors met in September: “Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your interest, your Yale alumni association has a way for you to connect, engage, learn, and serve.”

Editor’s note: while the assembly program is open only to delegates and invited guests, YaleNews and other campus partners will provide coverage of key events afterward. Check back for coverage and also follow the hashtag #YaleAlumni during the events for highlights in real-time on social media.

A social media note for alumni delegates to the assembly, and alumni returning to campus for the last home football game and other events: You are encouraged to use the hashtag #YaleAlumni for this and all alumni events. All alumni and friends are encouraged to stay connected with Yale via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.

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