Annual Entrepreneurship Summit draws hundreds

Alumni and students convene for fifth conference to network and share ideas


Xiaoxia Yin

Enterprising alumni may have gotten to know Washington and Lee students on the cusp of the next big thing at Friday and Saturday’s fifth annual Entrepreneurship Summit, and vice versa.

Over 135 alumni and 300 students registered in the days leading up to the event, which aims to give members of the W&L community the opportunity to pitch ideas, learn about establishing a business plan in a variety of fields, and network with fellow Generals.

Jeffrey Shay, Johnson professor of entrepreneurship and leadership and advisor to the Venture Club, has led efforts to organize the conference since its debut in 2012.

According to Shay, participation has grown considerably since the first year of the summit, when only about 30 alumni and 60 students were involved.

“It’s always wonderful to see students and alumni working together, sharing ideas, networking and talking about innovation like interesting new start-ups and things like that,” Shay said. “And this event is one of the best opportunities on campus for networking with a wide variety of alumni from almost every major, and students from every major and minor as well. So it’s great to bring the whole community together in this interdisciplinary event.”

Yoko Koyama, ‘19, agreed that the event helps students think beyond Lexington.

“It is a really good [opportunity] that expands my horizons,” she said.

Informative sessions in Stackhouse Theater on Friday covered everything from how to prepare to launch an idea, to how to navigate scaling challenges, to when to know to sell a business. More narrowly-focused breakout sessions in Huntley Hall on Saturday allowed participants to hear about being an entrepreneur in the food, biotechnology, and fashion industries.

The student pitch competition, a cornerstone of the annual summit, culminated in cash prizes of up to $1,000 given to students with ideas for sustainable plastics, a college-focused safe rides app, and a domestically-grown seaweed snacks business.

“We had so many candidates with inventive, exciting and thoughtful ideas,” said Monette Carli, ‘17, a member of Venture Club and an organizer of the student pitch competition.

Carli said the great thing about this Summit is how it brings students, faculty and alumni together.

“It gives everyone a chance to connect over a common interest in entrepreneurship and it is truly an inclusive event, catering to all interests and majors,” Carli said. “For the small size of W&L, it is amazing how many alumni come back to campus to support the Summit.”