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Teaching an Entrepreneurial Mindset | Tufts Now

Elaine Chen, director of the Derby Entrepreneurship Center at Tufts
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As Director of the Derby Center for Entrepreneurship at Tufts, Elaine Chen leads a thriving hub for all things entrepreneurship. She oversees year-round programming that works overtime to reduce barriers to becoming an entrepreneur, both in the traditional sense of leading a startup or in the broader sense of innovation in any field. The website offers hundreds of articles for self-directed learning, while programs include Jumbo Café workshops, alumni networking events, the $100,000 New Enterprise Competition, and the Tufts Venture Accelerator Summer Program for students, recent graduates, and members of the Tufts community.

Chen, who teaches innovation and entrepreneurship as the Cummings Family Professor of Entrepreneurship Practice, said the center “teaches our students how to bring their knowledge and curiosity together to take that first step toward making a change about what they are passionate about.”

Chen joined Tufts University in Fall 2020 from MIT, where she was a senior lecturer and resident entrepreneur at MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship. A graduate of MIT with two degrees in mechanical engineering, she began her career at technology startups, where her innovative skills led to leadership roles in engineering and product management at the VP level at startups such as Rethink Robotics, Zeo, Zeemote, and SensAble Technologies. She brought many hardware and software products to the market (she has 22 patents) and is the author Bringing a Hardware Product to Market: Navigating the Wild Road from Concept to Mass Production.

Tufts now I recently met with Chen to talk about what it means to be an entrepreneur today and how Tufts University helps students develop the skills and mindset to lead change.

Tufts now.: 2021 seems to be a pivotal year for the center: it has a new name thanks to a generous gift From a former manager and new home at the Joyce Cummings Center. Does this indicate a new era of entrepreneurship at Tufts University?

Eileen Chen: This is a wonderful moment. Our identity is more prominent, our location is closer to the center of the university, and our aspirations have increased. Our ambition for the center is to redefine the word entrepreneurship on and off campus and make everyone feel that the entrepreneurial way of working is available to them.

I want to offer a point of contact, or some kind of entrepreneurial education experience, to anyone who wants that. In the summer of 2022, we will reach out to high school students; We are launching a pre-college program with the idea that we can expand our regional influence. We also plan to reach more graduate students enrolled in residential programs. We want to continue to serve our graduates and stay in touch with them throughout their careers. Forty years from now, I want them to come back to Tufts and share their stories!

Our ambition is simple: No matter your needs, interests, and time zone, we’re here to support you.

How has the pandemic shifted the focus of the entrepreneurial world? Does it present new challenges, new opportunities?
definitely! The pandemic demonstrates the importance of having an entrepreneurial mindset and skills. It highlights the need to be fast on your feet and adapt to rapidly changing conditions. Just as you think things are back to normal, a curve ball is thrown. Now, if you have an entrepreneurial way of looking at the world, this is just another day. You just have to find a way to move forward on a daily basis.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen a lot of new companies. Anyone who has ventured into doing fitness at home has done really well. I know someone who has been researching how difficult it is for people to get PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] Then they just started a project to help people get PPP loans.

I think the crisis has reshaped not only how we think about business but how we do our work. If you are an entrepreneur, you can find an opportunity to offer solutions in which others may only see frustration and chaos.

What is your advice to a potential entrepreneur in this environment?

A pandemic can be very worrying. A lot of people probably get really nervous. We see it in the classroom. See it in conversation with students.

My message to them is: I’ve got this. You can discover a way forward. do not worry.

There is a quote from [Canadian Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau, from the World Economic Forum several years ago, loved it. “The pace of change has never been so fast,” he said, “but it will never be so fast again.” It’s just going to keep moving, and that’s a good thing; This is interesting. Innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs should embrace the idea that they can discover it and believe in themselves.

How do you define entrepreneurship?

When most people think of an entrepreneur, they think of someone like Elon Musk [CEO of Tesla and SpaceX] And they say, Well, that’s not me. I dont care. And when they think of entrepreneurship, they think of startups. But this is a very narrow and very limited definition of the word entrepreneur and the word entrepreneurship.

For me, entrepreneurship is so much more than that. Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking and a way of doing; It’s a combination of mindset and skill set.

Mentally, this is innate in every person. Everyone knows how to learn. It is the belief that you can discover things along the way; You can repeat until you reach the correct solution. This means that you don’t overthink things, you don’t get into analysis paralysis, and you don’t end up thinking that you can make the perfect plan. This is not how the world works.

In terms of skill set, you need to know how to conduct primary market research and secondary market research. You need to know how to run a digital marketing campaign and organize a sales team. You need to know how to calculate your unit economics. These are teachable skills. Once they are combined with the right mindset, you are on your way to entrepreneurship.

Our job as educators is to make the learning of mindset and skills accessible. We can teach students how to iterate the entrepreneurial process, and if they don’t feel the mentality at first, they learn it. They can learn to be flexible and adaptable.

On this teaching note, today the center’s undergraduate program attracts more than 700 students and the Entrepreneurship discipline is one of the best options for undergraduates. I also recently created Entrepreneurship for Social Impact Secondary with Tisch College. How do you feel about what students want from entrepreneurship studies?

It’s always exciting to be in a class with them. I teach Entrepreneurship 101, and now the demographic mix of my students is 70% liberal arts, 20% engineering, and then a mix of students from the School of Fine Arts and other schools.

What I’ve noticed is that Tufts University students have a lot of hunger to make a difference. They say: I want to make a difference. They care about sustainability, less food waste, and less clothing waste. They care about racial injustice, diversity, and civic discourse.

What I hear the most is: How do I start? It can seem overwhelming. But if you are given the mindset and skill set, you can think about what you can understand, where you have the ability, at your level, to make a difference. Everyone has an agency to make small, medium or large changes.

Much of our Innovation and Entrepreneurship content teaches our students how to bring their knowledge and curiosity together to take that first step toward making a change about the things they love. They have no idea where to start; We give them different ways to explore what entrepreneurship means to them and discover that they can actually make an impact.

Where does Tufts lead in generating entrepreneurial ideas and projects?

Tufts University is unique in that it does not have a business school, but rather has two areas where the university itself is a thought leader. In terms of social impact – no one has the strengths that Tufts has. Tufts is also particularly strong in healthcare and life sciences interests because we have four professional colleges in healthcare sciences.

Finally, a big question: Why is the Center for Entrepreneurship important to Tufts?

I feel very strongly about the importance of entrepreneurial thinking. Basically, it’s a great life skill that can benefit anyone, and thus can amplify your experience in whatever you choose to study here at Tufts University. We’re a university-wide resource all about discovering what you’re capable of – and sometimes that can surprise you!

I can relate that to my career. For the longest time, I thought: I have to get a job. It was always the job. Then I started to take ownership of my work experience, and I knew I could make a change. I can lead my life. If you need to make a switch, I can do that. This is really what thinking as an entrepreneur is all about. An entrepreneurial mindset derives its power from knowing you have an agency. How can you say no to that?

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