Innovation-minded alumni, faculty, and students gathered in San Francisco recently for the Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Forum to sharpen their start-up skills, network, share expertise, and honor the first two members of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame, Jim Coulter ’82 and Steve Hafner ’91.
The forum, marking its 10th anniversary and hosted by the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship, is a distinctly Dartmouth gathering that brings together community members who are continuing the Dartmouth tradition of pursuing innovation, launching successful ventures, and paying it forward by sharing knowledge and wisdom with future generations, which in turn strengthens the university community. The forum attracted nearly 500 individuals from across the U.S. and Europe.
Helping early-stage founders meet the complex challenges of launching a start-up is a central focus of each forum. Forty-five alumni with extensive start-up experience—venture capitalists, angel investors, and veteran entrepreneurs—mentored students, faculty, and alumni representing 70 early-stage companies at this year’s forum. More than three dozen alumni delivered presentations and participated in panel discussions exploring topics such as biosecurity, climate technology, and artificial intelligence.
President Sian Leah Beilock attended the forum and thanked the assembled entrepreneurs for their leadership role in Dartmouth’s innovation ecosystem and their collective contributions to Dartmouth and the broader world.
“Dartmouth is uniquely positioned to be a constant engine for start-ups and ventures,” said President Beilock. “Our size and scale render us nimble in working to spur innovation at the intersections of disciplines. It is in that space between where there is ample ground for new approaches and invention. In addition, our approach of a full education, across the arts and sciences, complemented by our diverse and team-oriented culture and emphasis on students and faculty working and learning together, differentiates us from others, and if we can amplify that combination in service to society, we will get there.”
Honoring two leading Dartmouth entrepreneurs
Coulter, a Dartmouth trustee emeritus, is executive chair and a founding partner of TPG, a private investment firm managing nearly $140 billion in assets, based in San Francisco and Fort Worth, Texas. He has served as TPG’s co-CEO and is co-managing director of TPG’s Rise Fund, which invests in businesses making positive social and environmental impact.
“As an investor, my job is to back and partner with entrepreneurs. I’ve met thousands, backed hundreds, and hired and occasionally fired scores of others,” Coulter told guests at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “Give me entrepreneurs that have vision, leadership, and persistence. But make sure they are curious, have a healthy relationship with risk, and are wired for the job.”
Hafner has been a global leader in the development of the online travel industry over the past quarter century. He cofounded the travel search company Kayak, which was acquired by Booking Holdings for $2.1 billion. He remains Kayak’s CEO and also serves as an executive of OpenTable, Inc., a restaurant reservation platform.
“I’m honored to be one of the first Hall of Fame inductees, and I thank the Magnuson Center for its support of Dartmouth’s entrepreneurs,” said Hafner. At a fireside chat the next day, he spoke about his journey as an entrepreneur, emphasizing the importance of innovative thinking, experimentation, and the need to assemble the right team.
TV producer, author, and Shondaland founder Shonda Rhimes ’91 and Keith Dunleavy ’91, founder and CEO of the cloud-based health care software company Inovalon, will join Coulter and Hafner as members of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame in May 2024.
The Magnuson Center established the Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame to celebrate members of the Dartmouth community who have transformed their industry and, in many instances, reshaped society. The center will annually invite community members to nominate alumni, living or deceased, for the honor, and nominees can come from any industry. A committee of the Magnuson Center Board of Advisors will select two or three inductees each year.
The challenges of team-building
Beilock led the forum’s morning session with a keynote address and a fireside chat moderated by trustee Jeff Crowe ’78, a managing partner at Norwest Venture Partners and chair of the Magnuson Center Board of Advisors. Both Beilock and Crowe reflected on the role Dartmouth can play in the path from innovation to impact.
“The work being done at the Magnuson Center to amplify all parts of campus around entrepreneurship is what leads us to bring such world class and diverse alumni together,” said Crowe. “Two of the center’s goals are to increase Dartmouth’s global impact by reducing the time it takes to bring technologies to market, as well as expand our support and presence of entrepreneurial events in more markets globally. The forum serves as the foundation of both of those goals.”
The forum’s concluding panel discussion, “How Do You Scale Iconic Companies: Lessons from Strip and Strava,” resonated with attendees as the three panelists, Jeff Richards ’94, Maia Josebachvili ’05, and Michael Horvath, spoke about building resilient teams. All three said cohesive teams generate innovative solutions more effectively and are better equipped to scale a company rapidly.
“It all starts with trust,” said Josebachvili, a member of the leadership team at Stripe, an online payment platform, and a Magnuson Center advisor. “Teams with a strong foundation of trust will always outperform the shaky ones. It fosters an innovative culture where employees feel encouraged to take risks and explore new solutions, which leads to more creativity, experimentation, and ultimately innovation.”
Jamie Coughlin, executive director of the Magnuson Center, said the Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Forum has become an ecosystem of entrepreneurial people and programs, expanded this year with a special session for graduate school alumni and students.
“The secret sauce of our fall gathering is the diverse community we assemble each year,” said Coughlin. “It is this community of dreamers and doers that inspires us to deliver our events with high energy and high impact. Every day, our team works to build the framework that provides the opportunity for future generations of entrepreneurs to achieve their goals.”