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Larry Crutcher '64 reports on "The Entrepreneurial Spirit at Yale"

Report on AYA Assembly LXXIV
"The Entrepreneurial Spirit at Yale"
by Larry Crutcher, Class AYA Representative

December 1, 2014

Larry Crutcher

The AYA met November 13-15, 2014, attended by over 500 including Messers Lavely, Getman, Holcombe, and myself.  The theme was "How Entrepreneurship at Yale is Changing Lives," with presentations running the gamut from the Engineering School to the School of Drama, with dozens of specific examples.  In this effort Yale appears to be competitively focused on M.I.T. and Stanford.

Trustee Kevin Ryan, a serial Internet entrepreneur, and University V.P. Linda Lorimer keynoted the sessions.

We heard presentations ranging from the launch of a chain of healthful fast food Chinese restaurants, to a brace that automatically adjusts to provide proper pressure to scoliosis patients. The latter, incidentally, involved a $100,000 award to the three students from the YEI Innovation Fund, which in turn receives NIH funding.  Another team is launching a sustainable shirt business, out of an unused mill in Lawrence, MA. 

Some ideas were endearingly small, such as encouraging parents to use their mobile devices to read to their kids with. Or an alumnus who launched a karioki bar in New Haven to appeal to the influx of Asian students. Or a Divinity student who organized a charter bus service specifically to move people to rallies.  Or a woman who is trying to take the Google-glasses concept to a Google-like contact lens.  The list goes on and on. A copy of the presentations is available here.

Throughout, we were encouraged to NOT turn off our cell phones, but to mute them, and use our phones to send out tweets about the exciting presentations.  

I participated in a hands-on seminar at the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, taught by two Yale Juniors. The subject was: “You are a single mom traveling with two kids from Chicago to Beijing, how do you improve the experience?” Half a dozen teams were provided work tables and a mix of paper, crayons, pipe twisters, ping pong balls, and paper clips. An hour later one team had produced a drop-down bed, another had devised an electronic executive assistant to handle all details, and so forth.  It was totally free-form, fast-moving, creative, and fun — the whole idea.

Two or three presenters gave credit to the Humanities at Yale for keeping them balanced in their entrepreneurial activities.

Other themes were woven into the Assembly, such as Yale’s international commitments.  The AYA director, Mark Dohlhopf, a P.T. Barnum-like figure, concluded the session with a walk-around multi-media show run off his tablet, in which he gave “shout outs” to dozens of alumni volunteer groups, such as one organized in Louisville with the Forestry School, another to the St. Louis club which celebrated the city’s 250th anniversary, another to the Spizzwinks alumni, and so forth.

It was unspoken, but fairly clear, that the AYA energies were being directed to the SIGs, or Special Interest Groups, and not so much to Classes.  There was a session, rather lightly attended, on how to improve Class activities.  It might have been more interesting had it been conducted by the ’64 leadership.