To students, he is known by one word. “I tell them to call me Zach,” says Andrew Zacharakis, the John H. Muller Jr. Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies.
Zacharakis has taught at Babson since 1998 and serves as director of the Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference. BCERC just completed another successful gathering, its 39th overall, earlier this month. “It has continued to grow in prestige over the years,” says Zacharakis.
Entrepreneurship is Zacharakis’ passion, and he has many wonderful memories through the years of working with students on their businesses. He says those interactions “keep me young,” but he is always careful to give his students a realistic portrait of what starting a business means.
“We help them to understand about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship,” he says. “It’s a roller coaster.”
Before becoming a professor, Zacharakis worked in venture capital and had a stint as a financial analyst at IBM in the mid-1980s.
His job at IBM, which was in a large facility with thousands of employees, made him reconsider what path he wanted to take in his career. He still remembers the indifferent attitude of many of the employees. “They didn’t seem to enjoy being there,” he says. “They didn’t have a lot of energy.”
The world of academia offered to him another possibility, one filled with vibrancy. Back then, a mentor told him, “One of the best things about being a professor is you’re around young people who are looking forward to life.”
That turned out to be good advice. Zacharakis has relished his time at Babson, whether he’s leading the Brazil elective abroad course or teaching at Babson Executive Education or enjoying the warm collegiality of his colleagues.
Some of his favorite remembrances involve the induction ceremonies of Babson’s Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs®, such as when Zacharakis got to shake the hand of basketball legend and 2006 honoree Earvin “Magic” Johnson. “Magic’s hand just swallowed my hand up,” he says.
As BCERC’s director, Zacharakis presides over a trendsetting conference that began in 1981. “It was the first entrepreneurship-focused conference of its kind,” he says. “I think it is one of the key drivers of Babson’s reputation.”
While the annual conference has been held around the country and the world, this year’s gathering took place on campus in recognition of Babson’s Centennial. The conference proved popular, with scholars submitting 561 abstracts for possible inclusion.
In the end, about 300 scholars presented more than 200 papers. Twenty-five doctoral students also attended as part of a doctoral consortium held in conjunction with the conference.
With so many leading entrepreneurship thinkers gathered in one location, the conference was once again a great place for networking and hashing out ideas. “You get a chance for a lot of deep conversations. People are always interacting with each other,” Zacharakis says. “If I look at some of my strongest collaborators over the years, I met them at the conference.”
As much as he enjoys research, however, the best part of being a professor is the students, says Zacharakis. “The students here are exceptional,” he says. “You get to know them on a personal level.”
Zacharakis keeps up with student entrepreneurs after they graduate. He likes to stress to them that a startup does not have to be acquired for millions upon millions of dollars to be considered a success. Rewarding ventures come in many forms.
“A lot of students come in with the mythology of entrepreneurship, that they will be the next Zuckerberg,” he says. “You can be a very successful entrepreneur without being a unicorn. You can make a lot of money for your company and your family without being an Uber or Lyft.”