This month Davidson welcomes to campus its new entrepreneurs in residence, Chris and Jon Boggiano. The duo will work with Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hannah Levinson to expand the college's Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, and with faculty members to identify and implement new ways to bring innovation into the classroom.
"The Boggianos will help to infuse innovation and entrepreneurship into our curriculum in unprecedented ways," Levinson said.
Davidson created its Innovation and Entrepreneurship program two years ago in response to the changing professional landscape and students' growing need to find and create real-world applications for their skills in leadership, critical thinking and innovation. The college continues to expand its co-curricular offerings and complement its arts and sciences curricula with opportunities for entrepreneurial ventures, as well as quality interactions with innovative professionals.
"Chris and Jon have naturally incorporated Davidson's mission, values and vision into their everyday work as entrepreneurs," Levinson said. "Their venture creation process-first properly articulating and framing the problem their company will address, then building a solution that can change the world positively and at some degree of scale- embodies Davidson's goal of fostering humane instincts in its students that, upon graduation, can be translated into disproportionate and meaningful impact."
Growing up, the Boggianos' household valued education and service-values the brothers went on to uphold in their academic, professional and business pursuits. Both graduates of West Point and Stanford's Graduate School of Business, they served in the army before entering the business world. First, they started and later sold Everblue.edu, a company focused on training in sustainability and renewable energy.
Their latest business, Versame, also is focused on early education and learning. They are developing technology to increase parent-child engagement after reading research showing the profound effect parents' language has on infant brain development.
Starting a business is never without its challenges, the brothers agree, but pursuing ventures that speak to their personal values has helped keep them motivated and positive.
"If you can feel good about what you're doing, it gets you through the down times," Chris said.
"Their entrepreneurial perspective-that entrepreneurship is, fundamentally, one of the primary grounds where progressive social change and creative problem-solving takes place-is what we hope to foster in our students," Levinson said.
Mark Williams '86, Ph.D., served a two-year stint as the college's first entrepreneur in residence from 2013-15. In that role, Williams advised the entrepreneurship initiative and helped to develop and implement the Davidson College Venture Fund, which with support from the Nisbet family awards young alumni with investment capital of up to $25,000 in support of their entrepreneurial ventures. Williams holds master of philosophy and doctoral degree in neuroanatomy and prior to founding two digital learning-based companies taught neuroscience at Duke University.
"Mark was a perfect inaugural entrepreneur-in-residence," Levinson said. "During his tenure, we piloted collaborations with faculty and developed an independent research study that gave students the experience of participating in beta tests of a pre-market product."
With Williams' work as a foundation, "the Boggianos are a terrific next pairing for the initiative," Levinson said. "Their enthusiasm for the liberal arts and for Davidson is unparalleled. Davidson is ready to leverage that energy and the Boggianos' experience and ideas to powerfully advance the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program."
Allison Cowie '18 has been working with the Boggianos as an intern, part of a 12-person team at VersaMe. A Spanish major and economics minor, she was instantly struck by the brothers' passion and commitment to making a difference, she said, and has been eager to learn the ways in which social mission and business overlap.
"I've seen that no idea is impossible, and that you can make a difference if you're willing to invest the time and create a strong team," she said. "Chris and Jon expect a lot, and they get everyone excited to collaborate and make things happen. They're the perfect people to work with Davidson students."
The Boggianos benefitted from the connections between industry, academic classes, business people and faculty while students at Stanford, Chris said. The school brought in many guest lecturers from diverse backgrounds and industries because of relationships forged with the greater business community.
"There's no reason we can't do that here, bring folks from Charlotte," Chris said.
In addition to work in individual classrooms, the brothers also will work with Levinson to plan a monthly guest lecture series, and to identify opportunities for student collaboration on projects with tangible applications in the community.
Lauren Stutts '05 teaches in the medical humanities department and is thrilled to work with the Boggianos this year to cultivate connections among students, faculty, research and industry.
"As both a faculty member and researcher, I'm interested to hear more about their product and how they test effectiveness," she said. She teaches a community-based child psychopathology course in which she sees opportunities for collaboration with the students and the Boggianos.
"We really enjoy mentorship," Jon said. "We mentor other entrepreneurs, veterans, all kinds of people, and have found that sometimes the biggest hurdle can be to just ask the right questions."
Curiosity is critical for successful innovation, Chris agreed, coupled with the willingness to explore that curiosity-both of which are skills the brothers have.
"I refuse to accept that there is a thing out there I can't figure out," Chris said, whether by asking the right questions of the right people, doing research, or trial and error. "Jon and I are willing to go outside of our comfort zones, and are not afraid to look dumb," he said.
"The ability to ask for help, to ask questions and to learn from others is critical to success in entrepreneurship," Jon said. "Also necessary is tenacity and passion, which come when you choose the right problem to solve."