Submitted on Wednesday, 4/24/2013, at 10:02 AM

By Daniel Diner '14

While still in high school, Samson Tan ’14 founded a nonprofit that introduces lacrosse to underprivileged youth, an initiative that would later win him a Global Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. Malcolm McClain ’13 took a gap year to work at a startup, helped his team place second in the UMass Amherst Entrepreneurship Initiative's 2011 Executive Summary Competition and even experimented with starting his own business on campus during his sophomore year.

Henrry Rivera '15 (second from left) won the first Amherst College Business Plan Compettion on April 7 for his business idea, StyleStream. He's pictured with (from left)  Malcolm McClain '13, Samson Tan '14 and Justin Ramos '13.

Now the pair has a new venture: the Amherst College Entrepreneurs' Society. They’ve reinvigorated the group and kick-started its efforts to encourage students to look beyond traditional professions and “see the world through the lens of a problem-solver.”

A victorious Rivera hugs a competitor and classmate.

To those ends, the group recently launched two initiatives: a speaker series and a round of competitions. They helped bring to campus Shaukut Aziz, former prime minister of Pakistan. Other speakers have included a former NFL contract negotiator, a green social media marketing group CEO and an NFL contract negotiator turned nightclub owner.

McClain (right) with former prime minister of Pakistan Shaukut Aziz.

In conjunction with the Social Entrepreneurship Leadership Team, the club also hosted the Entrepreneurial Pitch Competition last December. Participants gave elevator pitches—90-second business idea propositions—in hopes of winning a $300 prize. Then, on April 7, the groups hosted the similar Business Plan Competition, which offered a total of $3,200 to the top participants.

Students network at an Entrepreneur's Society event.

The objective behind these competitions, says Tan, is to encourage people to “think critically [so as to] open their minds and to encourage them to become problem-solvers. We want to take people away from the idea that entrepreneurship is just the process of starting a particular business.”

The pair hopes that the newly active club will become a fixture on campus. “I think it’s very representative of the liberal arts,” says McClain. “You’re drawing on a variety of disciplines, and students from a liberal arts background can do very well as entrepreneurs.” What’s more, entrepreneurship is not limited to any particular field or profession.

Matt Tower '15 at the business plan competition. His team received an honorable mention for their business idea, called The Option. 

“We definitely learn some business, but at the end of the day it’s more figuring out how to solve problems,” says Tan. “Especially when you’re doing a startup, you can’t specialize in any one thing. You have to know something about marketing, finance, the industry in question, and you have to be very broad and capable in many different areas. And I think that fits very well into the skill set of a liberal arts student.”