eTower, a Venture in Itself

eTower at Centennial Celebration
President Spinelli and founder of Ring Jamie Siminoff '99 join eTower onstage after Babson ePitch at Centennial Celebration.

Founded as a space to bring together Babson student entrepreneurs, special interest residential community eTower has grown into an entrepreneurial powerhouse almost 20 years later.

A New Living Incubator at Babson

Originally drawn to Babson for its deep strength in entrepreneurship, Andrew Foley ’03 was a sophomore in 2001 when he came up with the idea for a new community where student entrepreneurs could live, learn, and work together: “The idea was: ‘What if we could create a living incubator?’ ”

With support from Campus Life and from President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD, then the director of The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, Foley and a group of students applied to get housing for eTower and were granted a space in Van Winkle Hall.

Orange for Home Depot, Purple for Dunkin’

The original eTower space in Van Winkle Hall
The original eTower space in Van Winkle Hall. Photo courtesy of Andrew Foley ’03.

Initially, the space wasn’t what they had in mind. “When we moved in, the place had dark red couches, pink walls, and teal carpet!” recalled Foley. The students got to work, cobbling together new furniture, office equipment, and a Foosball table. They also painted the hallways in colors to represent successful brands—orange for Home Depot and purple for Dunkin’ Brands. With a new look and some entrepreneurship memorabilia gifted by the Blank Center in place, eTower was “quickly turned into a home for student entrepreneurs.”

The Writing on the Walls

IdeaPaint is used for the first time
IdeaPaint is used for the first time. Photo courtesy of Andrew Foley ’03.

The business ideas followed. After a community brainstorming session in the fall of 2002 left the walls of the common area covered in adhesive note paper, Foley and eTower freshman John Goscha ’06 hatched the idea for a paint that could transform any wall into a dry erase writing surface. Opting to beg forgiveness rather than seek permission, Goscha mixed up a batch of industrial-strength chemicals and applied his first test batch of dry erase paint to the once-pink walls of the eTower common area. Soon after the paint dried, students from across campus began writing notes on the walls requesting to order the paint. IdeaPaint was born. Goscha would go on to perfect that formula after graduation and build IdeaPaint into the eTower’s first breakthrough company.

The Value of Community

In the nearly 20 years that have followed, numerous eTower students and alumni have started successful companies, including CompStak (Michael Mandel ’05), NatureBox (Gautam Gupta ’07), and Storyblocks (Joel Holland ’08). However, the community that has been built along the way may be eTower’s most notable legacy.

So, when eTower needed new direction several years ago, Diana Yuan ’15, now co-founder of Indico, actually looked back to the organization’s roots for inspiration. In rebuilding the charter, recruiting new residents, and revamping programming, Yuan, in her term as president, hyper-focused on “creating a community that fosters entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial spirit.” She and her e-board were successful, and eTower has continued to flourish.

Polina Raygorodskaya '08, founder of Wanderu speaking at eTower
Polina Raygorodskaya ’08, founder of Wanderu, recently speaking at eTower.

Today, Sumukh Setty ’21, current president of eTower, upholds these same values, explaining that what originally drew him to eTower as a freshman was the sense of community and home. The residents focus on making time for eTower—“Wednesday night is eTower night”—and on developing resources and opportunities to start and scale eTower businesses.

New this semester, eTower introduced a seed fund which grants up to $1,500 and a professional accelerator fund which can provide $300 to any resident interested in attending a conference or taking a workshop.

Ultimately, in the incredibly rich entrepreneurial ecosystem of people, events, resources, and opportunities at Babson, it is the strong community that distinguishes the tower. As Foley described, “eTower is and will continue to be where you can be part of a living community.”

Venture Forward

What’s ahead for eTower? Looking to connect with the entrepreneurship ecosystems at Babson and in Boston, eTower is interested in creating mentorship opportunities for first-year students and working with student-led entrepreneurship clubs at universities and colleges in the Boston area.

In these ways, eTower will be able to share what uniquely characterizes it—its “supportive, friendly environment”—with entrepreneurs beyond its walls and also continue to iterate and evolve. After all, as Yuan put it, “eTower is a venture in itself.”

Posted in Campus & Community, Entrepreneurs of All Kinds

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