The seventh annual Jonathan R. Lax ’71 Conference on Entrepreneurship will be held at Swarthmore this Sunday. One of Lax’s first steps into the business world was starting a mutual fund out of his room in Hallowell, and the conference that bears his name is designed to celebrate and encourage that same entrepreneurial spirit in students and alumni today.
From these auspicious beginnings in Hallowell, Lax became a successful business executive, founding the Philadelphia-based market research firm The Marketing Audit, and also a social activist who was president of Philadelphia FIGHT, an AIDS service organization that provides medical care, educates the public, and researches potential treatments. He left Swarthmore a bequest to fund this conference, which is co-sponsored by the offices of Career Services and Alumni Relations.
Over 140 alumni and students have already registered for this year’s conference. Usually, about one-third of attendees are students, one-third are alumni who have graduated in the past ten years, and one-third are other alumni.
Lisa Lee ’81, Director of Alumni Relations, said that alumni enjoy the conference because “there are already many activities at the conference that are academic in nature… we don’t usually have the business world represented, and our alumni find that opportunity exciting.” Alumni come from as far away as New York City and Washington DC just to attend the conference, where they “can network for a new purpose.” Instead of looking for internships or ways to start their career, alumni might be looking to learn how other alumni have handled similar issues.
According to Lee, “the roundtable discussions are especially popular for students. They’re more interactive, and they’re often more practical, based around topics like the difficulties of being a woman in a ‘man’s world’ or starting a career in real estate. Students know they can go there to find a group of people with at least one interest in common.”
Jennifer Barrington, Assistant Director of Career Services, stressed that “entrepreneurship fits the culture here well because of independent thinking” and also that the conference is about much more than for-profit entrepreneurship. One of the panels is actually centered around social responsibility, the only panel topic that is repeated every year. The conference has been promoted by the Lang Center for just this reason; Lee explained that “campus groups like Swat Sudan are perfect examples of social entrepeneurship,” and Barrington pointed to Peter Murray ’00, president of the Center for Progressive Leadership, as a good example of “a non-profit and political entrepreneur” who students might be interested in hearing.
Both Lee and Barrington were extremely excited about the keynote speaker, Peter Bart ’54. He is editor-in-chief of “Variety” and helped to produce such movies as “The Godfather” and “Harold and Maude” with Paramount Pictures before forming his own independent production company in 1974. He’s an “amazing and creative soul,” says Barrington, and she expects many students to come out and see him speak.
Barrington recalled that “a great number of students come out each year… each year it builds on itself,” and thinks it’s important that students come because “this information is not available in a textbook anywhere. You get the inside scoop on what it takes to succeed.” Alumni love helping students with networking, said Barrington, “because they remember when they were students dialing numbers and hoping for a response… they know what it’s like to be where you are.”