Upon taking the stage as the keynote speaker at Babson’s Founders Summit, serial entrepreneur Tim DeMello ’81, P’18 shared a surprising story about his entrepreneurial roots.
The setting was 1978. The event: Babson’s first Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs® induction ceremony. And, then-student DeMello asked, “What’s an entrepreneur?”
At the time, Babson didn’t offer entrepreneurship as a major. DeMello himself majored in finance. But, the significance of that event, and the five entrepreneurs inducted that evening—Soichiro Honda of Honda Motor Car Company Ltd; Ray Kroc of McDonald’s Corporation; Royal Little of Textron Inc; Kenneth Olsen of Digital Equipment Corporation; and Berry Gordy of Motown Records—was enough to reel DeMello in.
“There I was, a 19-year-old kid listening to their stories,” he shared. “That was it. The hook was in my mouth. I knew I wanted a piece of that.”
Fast forward to 2019 and Babson’s an expert in entrepreneurship, as is DeMello. He has founded seven startups and is working on his eighth, and had plenty of wisdom to share with the crowd.
“Babson educated me on the world of business, but mostly inspired me on the world of entrepreneurship,” he said.
His keynote was the culmination of Babson’s first Founders Summit, an afternoon of ideas and inspiration for founders and builders of all kinds of companies. Created and hosted by The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship to celebrate the College’s Centennial, the Summit featured opportunities for Babson entrepreneurs to connect, learn, and network with one another.
Those opportunities included a Mega Mentoring session, where 100 alumni and 100 students collaborated for on-the-spot mentoring and advice. The day also featured lightning talk sessions where Babson’s Centers and Institutes shared insights in entrepreneurship, finance, family business, social innovation, and more.
“The energy today was so cool,” said Debi Kleiman, executive director of the Blank Center, addressing the crowd before the day’s keynote. “I was walking around and listening to conversations, and they were so interesting. People were really getting into it. That’s what we wanted today to be about.”
DeMello took the stage to inspire the room full of entrepreneurs’ with stories and lessons from his journey.
“The huge difference between you and I is that I have a lot more failure than most of you,” he said. “This game is all about failure creating success, as long as you can stay in the game.”
His most recent success was the sale of Gradifi, the leader in employer-based student loan repayment company. Founded by DeMello in January 2014, the company helps employers help employees pay down their student debt up to 25% faster. Gradifi was acquired by First Republic Bank in 2016.
DeMello’s advice for the entrepreneurs in the room centered around 10 important components of success. From the value of angel investors to the importance of learning every day to the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur, he shared tangible takeaways for builders of companies across all stages of the startup spectrum.
He closed with one final bit of advice for founders: “If you can take entrepreneurship and move it from professional to personal life and make it your sport, you have a greater chance of success.”
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