Babson Magazine

Winter 2016

Rebuilding Babson’s Home for Entrepreneurs

E-Tower is an inspiring place, says Derek Tu ’18, the tower’s president. To understand why, come visit at night when the living-learning community’s members, who all have a passion for entrepreneurship, are hanging out in the big common area, bouncing ideas off each other, helping each other, motivating each other. “We are a community of entrepreneurs,” Tu says. “You see someone working on an app or website, and you think, I should be doing that. It’s contagious.”

Photo: Webb Chappel

Photo: Webb Chappell
Derek Tu ’18, president of E-Tower

With 22 current members, the tower’s track record speaks to the power of that atmosphere. About 90 students have lived in E-Tower, located in Van Winkle Hall, since its founding in 2001, and they’ve launched an impressive list of companies, including IdeaPaint, Virool, NatureBox, ThinkLite, and CompStak.

But while these successes are a large part of the community’s story, E-Tower also is a story of missteps and redemption. Several years back, the tower fell on hard times of its own making as it strained relations with campus administration. There were unfortunate incidents, says Tu, including large, out-of-control parties that caught the attention of campus police, as well as a culture that turned competitive and stressful, with members feeling pressured to produce results on businesses. In 2012, the College took away the group’s on-campus housing.

E-Tower returned to campus in 2013, and since then has done the hard work of repairing its relationship with school officials, rebuilding its reputation, and restoring a more supportive environment. “We lost our identity,” Tu says. “We had to do some soul-searching.” Today, the tower is again a thriving community, a collaborative place where students leave the door to their rooms open in case someone should pop by with a question.

Every Wednesday evening, about 80 students pack the tower’s general member meetings, which are open to any student who would like to attend. Attendees give feedback on business ideas, listen to speakers, and get to know each other by breaking into groups and talking about real, personal issues: aspirations, fears, what drives them.

From these general meetings, the tower recruits students to live in its community. “We are going after people who are hustlers,” Tu says. “That’s anyone who’s interested in entrepreneurship. That’s leaders. That’s people who desire to question the status quo.” Starting a business is not a requirement to join the tower, though 11 ventures currently are run out of the space.

This academic year has been particularly productive for the group. Among other accomplishments, it raised $34,000 to refurbish its space and held an entrepreneurial conference attended by many alumni. “What an incredible group,” says Len Green, an adjunct lecturer of entrepreneurship and the group’s adviser, who is proud of how the group overcame its past circumstances to foster a renewed entrepreneurial spirit and to raise funds to improve its space. “E-Tower,” he says, “exemplifies what Babson students are all about.”—John Crawford