By Heream Yang
Vanderbilt Business boasts an impressive roster of alumni entrepreneurs, including Aaron Dorn (MBA‘17), Founder of Studio Bank, and Reggie Ford (MAcc‘14), Founder of Roscrete Wealth Management. These founders don’t just develop their ideas in a vacuum: The Owen Venture and Entrepreneurship Club (OVEC) works to empower the next generation of entrepreneurs by offering a wealth of business resources and an extensive alumni network. With 155 current members from across all of the Vanderbilt Business programs, OVEC represents a wide range of entrepreneurial interests.
Creativity and Connectivity
OVEC’s programming is as diverse as its members. From hosting whiteboarding sessions to launching the first-ever Vanderbilt Entrepreneurship Conference, OVEC engages students through a variety of touchpoints.
“The mission of OVEC is to be a connective tissue that really connects students from a broad variety of walks of life,” said Teddy Dinker (MBA’20), President of OVEC. “What we want to do is create a platform where ideas can collide.”
Twice a mod, OVEC hosts a signature whiteboarding session to provide a safe environment in which to cultivate creative business ideas. At each session, 20 to 30 students gather to pitch their business ideas and receive constructive feedback from their peers. Recent ideas have ranged from a Russian bathhouse to an online crowdfunding platform.
“It’s a real chance for students who are just curious with an idea that they’ve been kicking around in their head to come in a psychologically safe environment with their peers to pitch their idea, get feedback, and also explore whether there might be some sort of opportunity to connect with somebody’s network,” Dinker explained.
Networking to Success
Successful entrepreneurship is fueled by connections, and OVEC seeks to expose students to a wide variety of founders through its podcast and upcoming newsletter, to launch in January 2020. OVEC member Charles Gillock (MBA ‘20) has been instrumental in developing the podcast as an entrepreneurial storytelling medium.
“Working with (Charles) on (the podcast) has opened up my eyes to the alumni network and how broad and deep it is,” said Dinker. “I went on LinkedIn to look up ‘founder’ in the Owen School and it returned over 1,000 different names… So I think being able to bring those stories into the community and continuing to do that for as many years as possible is going to be really valuable.’”
Through a strategic partnership with the Center for Entrepreneurship (C4E), OVEC also hosts a variety of events that provide opportunities for networking and fundraising. In 2018, the inaugural Vanderbilt Entrepreneurship Conference brought in prominent Nashville entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to speak, also offering a pitch competition with $5,000 in prizes. The quarterly $500 Firestarter Pitch Competition, the $15,000 Summer Grant, and the $25,000 Sohr Grant provide additional funding opportunities for students’ ventures.
Building the Future of Business
OVEC’s impact extends well beyond members’ time at Owen. The skills and connections they develop prepare students for success as alums. Former OVEC member and Owen alum Cale Genenbacher (MBA’16) is the Co-founder and President of LOGE Camps, a hospitality startup that lives out its motto of “Live Outside, Go Explore!” by transforming struggling properties into vibrant community-centered lodging for outdoors enthusiasts. Since its launch in 2017, LOGE has received backing from brands like Chrome and Hydroflask and has been featured on Forbes and Lonely Planet.
“They’ve raised quite a bit of money… over the course of the last couple years, and they’re growing like crazy,” Dinker said. “(Genenbacher) was instrumental in getting the C4E put together (and) he was in to do a Lunch with an Entrepreneur session.”
Dinker hopes to continue the OVEC legacy and cultivate more success stories like Genenbacher’s by establishing a network of successful alumni to guide first-time founders through the legal and business hurdles of entrepreneurship.
“Most of the time (as a) first-time entrepreneur, you’re not really going to know what you’re doing,” Dinker explained. “So being able to map (the process) out, and taking away a little bit of the uncertainty that comes along with that, and making it a little bit easier to understand the pitfalls to avoid… would be really helpful.”