The Inaugural Tiger Entrepreneurs Conference: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Written by
Wright Seneres
Nov. 29, 2017

Mounted on the wall, in a corner of the first floor of the beautiful LabCentral space at 700 Main Street in Cambridge, is an old Acme Telephone from around 1900. It’s a symbol of the location’s history of innovation: in 1876, Thomas A. Watson received the first-ever two-way long-distance phone call at 700 Main Street, from Alexander Graham Bell in Boston two miles away.

That old telephone presided over the first day of the inaugural Tiger Entrepreneurs Conference, sponsored by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council. By design, the conference brought together Princetonians across a spectrum of ages and industries, sparking conversations and connections that will continue to build the Princeton entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The agenda spanned a wide range of entrepreneurial activities, with prominent Princeton alumni speakers and panelists from the worlds of biotech, life sciences, technology, energy, social enterprises, arts, sports, and investment.

Anna Protopapas ’86, CEO of Mersana Therapeutics, discussed Mersana’s path from startup to IPO in just five years, keying in on the importance of people and culture in an organization. As the biotech sector is not for the faint of heart, Protopapas likened the process from initiation of a program to going to market as a high-wire act.

Eight startups with Princeton alumni founders also pitched: Takachar (Kevin Kung ’08), Magpie (Damjan Korac ’13), Recensa Therapeutics (Matt Handel ’87), Cortico (Eugene Yi ’08), Joro (Cressica Blazier ‘00 and Sanchali Pal ’12), White Mountain Pharma (Thomas Robinson ’68), Autonomous Marine Systems (Eamon Carrig ’05) and Skedaddle (Brad Werntz ’10).

Evangeline Kubu, interim executive director of Career Services, discussed how Princeton is reimagining its career services around entrepreneurship. Career Services also generously sponsored the Thursday night networking reception, as well as a select ten undergraduates to attend the conference. “We were delighted to sponsor the networking reception at TEC2017 and to foster deeper connections within Princeton’s vibrant entrepreneurial community. Bringing students to the conference helped them build their network and gain exposure to new ideas — and the variety of ways alumni in the start-up space are shaping their unique entrepreneurial visions.”

Princeton professors Kef Kasdin ’85 S85 P14 and Chris Kuenne ’85 P17 (with Katherine Hays Miller ’98) of the Keller Center, and David Miller of the Faith & Work Initiative each brought a popular entrepreneurial class of theirs to the conference.

Jose Alvarez ’85 S85 P14 of Harvard Business School moderated a panel on social entrepreneurship featuring Doug Borchard ’82 S83 P11 (New Profit, Inc.), James Burgess ’09 (OpenBiome), Stig Leschly ’92 S92 (Match Education) and Steph Speirs *14 (Solstice Initiative). Borchard provided some wise words: “If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money.”

Dr. Tom Leighton ’78, CEO of Akamai, explored his experience and opinion about how to stay current while remaining focused, and discussed how to determine when it is the right time to shut down a new product development during a fireside chat with Anne-Marie Maman, PEC executive director.

Parallel Wireless founder and chairman Steve Papa ’94 then spoke about the importance of people when scaling technology, innovation and commercialization, both during his time as chief executive of Endeca and with Parallel Wireless.

Nick Leschly ’94, founder and “chief bluebird” of bluebird bio, walked conference attendees through his founding of the company and his entrepreneurial experiences during a fireside chat with Kush Parmar ’02, managing partner at 5AM Ventures.

Tony Williams of the Office of Technology Licensing moderated a panel on investment trends featuring Graham Brooks ’98 (.406 Ventures), Laurence Latimer *01 (IEX Group), Kush Parmar ’02 and Dianna Raedle ’84 (Deer Isle Group). The panel keyed on artificial intelligence, financial tech, data analytics and gene therapy as hot topics in investment.

Jose Mateo ’74, founder and artistic director of the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre, spoke on his reflections on the entrepreneur within as he founded a dance company, and engaged in activism. In addition to his dance company, his Dance for World Community Festival brings over 20,000 people out to the streets of Harvard Square, and makes dance accessible for all. On the same arts theme, Angel Gardner of the Lewis Center for the Arts gave a visual overview of the stunning new Lewis Arts Complex.

Closing out TEC2017 was a panel discussion on sports entrepreneurship and innovation moderated by Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan ’91 and featuring Matt Henshon ’91 (Henshon Klein LLP) and Dave Sertich ’03 (Kraft Analytics Group).

Learn more about our panelists and speakers: download the conference program (PDF).

The conference was a successful lead-in to the rest of the Tigers Tackle Harvard weekend, including an exuberant crowd at the Princeton Association of New England Tiger Tent tailgate and Princeton’s 52-17 mauling of Harvard in the 114th edition of the football classic.

While it was not the actual phone used by Thomas A. Watson to receive that first-ever two-way long distance phone call, that old telephone was an apt symbol for the conference. As the telephone has brought people all over the world together and connected them, this conference is a major step in building and supporting entrepreneurship the Princeton way.

Read more about the conference sessions and view photos below.

PEC would like to thank our many partners in the development of the inaugural Tiger Entrepreneurs Conference, including LabCentral, Biolabs, and Merck Research Laboratories. On campus, PEC would like to thank the Keller Center, the Office of Alumni Affairs, the Alumni Association, the Alumni Council, the Department of Athletics, Career Services, the Office of Corporate Engagement and Foundational Relations, the Office of the Dean for Research, the Office of Technology Licensing and the Office of Development. PEC also extends its thanks to the Princeton Alumni of New England and the Princeton Varsity Club. Go Tigers!

We look forward to bringing you the next Tiger Entrepreneurs Conference.