“Being an entrepreneur has changed my life enormously for the better,” says William Collis ’07. “It opened a doorway for me to accelerate my career in ways that would not have been possible on a conventional corporate track.”
However, it took Collis, an Asian Languages and Civilizations and Economics double major who went on to earn an M.B.A. from Harvard, a little time to figure that out. “When I graduated from Amherst, I had absolutely no interest in start-ups,” he says. “But after a few years in traditional jobs, I realized that I wanted nimbleness, flexibility, and the chance to lead a team taking a big risk. Entrepreneurship turned out to be a perfect fit.”
That pivot has paid off. At this point, Collis has founded and sold multiple companies, including the professional esports team OXG, now one of the largest esport operations in the world, and is currently involved in a potentially groundbreaking new start-up with two other Amherst alums (more on that below).
What’s even more impressive is his impulse to open similar doorways for today’s Amherst students. Collis provided seed funding for the inaugural Amherst College Entrepreneurship Society (ACES) Conference on campus in March 2023. This all-day event brought together alumni entrepreneurs, early-stage investing alumni, and current students for panel discussions, a keynote address, and a 90-second pitch competition that offered students a chance to win cash prizes and gain feedback from potential investors. He’ll be funding the 2024 ACES Conference, to be held on April 14, as well.
“I wanted to help Amherst start exposing its incredibly talented students, with all their passion and creativity, to the world of entrepreneurship,” Collis says. “In my opinion, the value of a liberal arts education is more important than ever as more and more innovation in our society is driven by interdisciplinary insights.”
Collis believes Amherst is especially effective at fostering this liberal arts mindset because of the quality of its faculty and their genuine interest in students. “Many of my favorite memories from college involve interactions with the faculty—a TYPO dinner with Tawa-sensei [Wako Tawa, the Willem Schupf Professor in Asian Languages and Civilizations] or a friendly coffee with my thesis advisors,” he says. “These sorts of one-on-one interactions propelled both my intellectual curiosity and my confidence in a way that is uniquely Amherst.”
Collis is now bringing his Amherst education to bear on an important new venture that could be life-changing for millions of people and is built on connections made at the College. “I’ve had the incredible experience of co-founding a startup with my two college roommates, Jenny Herbach ’07 and Mark Yarchoan ’07,” Collis says. “We always felt that the three of us made an effective team. When we graduated, we vowed that we would one day reunite together when the time was right.”
That time came early last year. “Mark gave me and Jen a call to explain that his group at Johns Hopkins had developed novel cancer vaccine technology that has the potential to make a huge impact for treatment and prevention,” he continues. “We made the decision to found Adventris Pharmaceuticals, and were thrilled to have our company accepted into Y Combinator to accelerate its growth. This spring, we closed a seed round with top-tier venture capital investors to build novel cancer vaccines to help move us toward a world without cancer.”
As transformative as those Amherst friendships may turn out to be, Collis doesn’t count them as the most momentous thing that happened to him at the College. What is? “That would be meeting my wife Nahoko Nishitani ’08”—one more way that Collis’s Amherst connections continue to shape and enhance his life.