The Forefront of Entrepreneurial Leadership: Q&A with Blank School CEO Donna Levin
Over an impressive career of inspiring and leading others to help solve problems, Donna Levin has exemplified entrepreneurial leadership.
As the inaugural CEO of the Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership for the past three and a half years, Levin has been at the forefront of helping shape the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders.
Levin joined the Babson College’s Blank School—launched thanks to a transformational gift from Arthur M. Blank ’63, H’98—in September 2020 and has led its growth and expansion as a first-of-its-kind hub to develop entrepreneurial leaders with empathy, morality, compassion, and drive to help solve the world’s biggest problems and impact communities everywhere.
As CEO, Levin has overseen the collaboration of the Blank School’s centers and institutes, has been integral in the development of the Herring Family Entrepreneurial Leadership Village, and recently spearheaded Babson’s campaign to bring the 2024 Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) Conference back to Babson’s campus for the first time since 2002.
For her accomplishments, Levin recently was recognized with a 2024 Pinnacle Award in the Achievement in Arts and Education from the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Levin and other recipients will be honored at the 2024 Pinnacle Awards Luncheon on January 26.
Levin spoke with Babson Thought & Action, reflecting on the honor, the accomplishments of the Blank School, and the importance of entrepreneurial leadership.
The Blank School has developed and accomplished so much over the past three years since you became the inaugural CEO. What accomplishments are you and your team most proud of?
“The Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership is one of the biggest investments in the future of Babson’s mission and serves as a resource for the entire community. The Blank School collaborates with faculty, staff, alumni, and partners to develop and support entrepreneurial leaders.
“Together, we have created an impactful portfolio that includes scholarship programs, research funding, and teaching innovation. Some examples include:
- Providing scholarship funding that has made attaining a Babson education possible to hundreds of students.
- Partnering with faculty on teaching innovation, speakers, and advanced experiential learning such as the Good Company, Good Game course.
- Partnered with the dean of faculty to support multidisciplinary research through the Faculty Research Angel Fund.
- Partnered with Advancement, alumni, and partners to secure naming gifts that support Babson’s strategic plan, such as the Frank & Eileen™ Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, the Bertarelli Institute for Family Entrepreneurship, and the Tariq Farid Franchise Institute.
“As a community, we have accomplished a lot, and we are just getting started.”
As CEO, you have helped bring six of Babson’s world-renowned centers and institutes together at the Blank School. How important are the centers and institutes to expanding Babson’s leadership in entrepreneurship education?
“Babson’s centers and institutes are a core part of the unique value proposition we provide existing students, learners across the lifespan, and partners. Each center and institute provides deep domain expertise, offers its own unique opportunities and resources, and collaborates with campus partners to enrich the learning experience here at Babson. The centers and institutes power a number of Babson’s research conferences and research, including the Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference (BCERC), the Diana International Research Institute (DIRI), and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM).
“The centers and institutes also are externally facing and provide opportunities for Babson to bring ‘just in time’ entrepreneurial leadership content and skills to lifelong learners. Examples include the Global Family Entrepreneurship Network led by the Bertarelli Institute for Family Entrepreneurship, the Entrepreneurial Leadership in the Social Sector executive certificate program led by the Social Innovation Institute, the Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab led by the Frank and Eileen Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, the SUD Sprint program led by the Kerry Murphy Healy Center for Health Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and coming soon a franchising certificate led by the Tariq Farid Franchise Institute.”
How is the Blank School positioned to continue leading the College’s expansion on entrepreneurial leadership, especially in higher education?
“Babson has been ranked No. 1 for entrepreneurship education for three decades. Babson has changed the conversation from ‘can entrepreneurship be taught’ to ‘entrepreneurship is a core competency,’ similar to reading, writing, and math. Academic institutions around the world have come to Babson to learn how to teach entrepreneurship and launch entrepreneurship programs.
“The world needs more entrepreneurial leaders, and Babson is uniquely positioned to help. Babson graduates have applied entrepreneurial skills across multiple sectors from consulting, finance, and family businesses to technology startups, sports management, foundations and beyond. Babson produces values-based entrepreneurial leaders.
“Babson has changed the conversation from ‘can entrepreneurship be taught’ to ‘entrepreneurship is a core competency,’ similar to reading, writing, and math. … The world needs more entrepreneurial leaders, and Babson is uniquely positioned to help.”
Donna Levin, CEO, Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership
“Babson’s Blank School partners with all academic divisions and departments to drive Babson’s resources on entrepreneurial leadership. We offer workshops, mentorship, funding opportunities and scholarships, academic research, accelerators and incubators, and more, all focused on entrepreneurial leadership.
“Academic research is key to Babson’s expansion in entrepreneurial leadership. Professor Scott Taylor, the Arthur M. Blank Endowed Chair for Values-Based Leadership, is working with a multidisciplinary team of faculty to clearly define how Babson creates values-based entrepreneurial leaders and why Babson’s approach works. This body of research will enable Babson to help academic institutions around the world create the values-based entrepreneurial leaders that the world needs.”
What does receiving the 2024 Pinnacle Award mean to you personally, and what does it say about the success of the Blank School?
“Receiving the 2024 Pinnacle Award is another validation of Babson’s strategic vision: Entrepreneurial leaders impacting communities everywhere. The Blank School was intentionally designed to be a school like no other and collaborate across campus and beyond, on all aspects of entrepreneurial leadership. As a community, we have made tremendous progress, and we’re accelerating the rate of positive change in the world.
“Personally, being a 2024 Pinnacle Award honoree makes me reflect on many things, including the insightful mentors and sponsors I’ve had throughout the years, the unwavering support from my family and friends, the amazing teams I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of, as well as how each learner we support gives us the ability to place a positive bet on the future. It is an honor to lead the Blank School, and I am excited and humbled to be a 2024 Pinnacle Award honoree.”