Middlebury, Bennington among top entrepreneurial colleges, Forbes says

The Old Stone Mill hosts the college's entrepreneurial program. Photo courtesy of Middlebury College.

The Old Stone Mill hosts the college’s entrepreneurial program. Photo courtesy of Middlebury College.

Two Vermont private schools are featured on Forbes Magazine’s list of the top 50 most entrepreneurial colleges.

Middlebury College is second on the list, coming in behind first-place Cooper-Union, and Bennington College is ranked fourth. Colorado College, third, and Morehouse College round out Forbes’ top five.

Forbes used data on graduates who have gone on to found companies and nonprofit organizations and other factors to determine which collegiate cultures have produced the greatest number of entrepreneurs.

The Forbes piece, to be published in the Aug. 17 edition, but is online now, begins: “Top research universities aren’t the only startup launchpads. The Cooper Union, which tops our Most Entrepreneurial College List this year, boasts more founders and owners among alumni and students on LinkedIn than Stanford University and MIT (adjusted for student body size). Middlebury, which ranks second on our list, is one of many small liberal arts colleges reinventing themselves as modern-day startup incubators.”

The magazine uses an “entrepreneurial ratio to create its list. It uses the number of alumni who identify themselves as company founders or owners divided by a school’s total student body.

The list includes a brief description of each college’s selection. For Bennington, it states, “Students often start ventures during Field Work Terms – four seven-week winter terms required for graduation.”

For Middlebury, the list highlights this, “The four-week immersion program MiddCore has brought in over 40 entrepreneur mentors such as Peet’s Coffee and Tea CEO Dave Burwick.”

Bennington’s reaction

“We’re certainly excited to be recognized and in good company,” Bennington College President Mariko Silver said Friday.

Silver said Bennington College attracts “that kind of student, and we also cultivate and enable students,” in a culture that stimulates independent thinking and world experience through job internships all four years of their college time.

“It’s one thing to have a brilliant idea, it’s another to go out into the world and make that happen,” she said.

While Bennington stresses a culture that pushes students into the world and its possibilities, “at the same time they’re learning all the basics of what they need to know, it’s an integrated approach,” Silver said.

Bennington College students spend seven weeks a year in job experiences in Vermont and as far flung as Egypt, North Africa, Australia or Alaska.

Students find work opportunities “truly everywhere,” Silver said.

They are encouraged through what she called support infrastructure “to go out and find those jobs, and part of their education and that experience is both about getting a job and doing well in it, but it’s also about finding out what kind of environments enable you to thrive,” said Silver.

Bennington College alumni have begun programs including a writing program for women incarcerated on Riker’s Island, a youth movement and new political party in Nepal, a software company and more traditional businesses, Silver said.

One noteworthy Bennington alumnus is Michael Pollan, a author whose work has the nation and beyond rethinking its food, and is unto himself something of an industry, said Silver.

Bennington alumni include: Ben Underwood, co-founder and CEO, Fuelcity; Jess Kutch, co-founder, Coworker.org; and Max Nanis, co-founder, General Research Lab.

Middlebury’s take

A news release from Middlebury College noted that Forbes has, in the past, ranked colleges for their entrepreneurial graduates, “but the new list recognizes a growing trend among liberal arts colleges.”

A related article to the Forbes piece focuses on Middlebury alumna Emily Nunez Cavness, Class of 2012, who founded a company called Sword and Plough with her sister, Betsy, which recycles surplus military materials into stylish handbags, tote bags and other items, a post on the Middlebury College website about the Forbes distinction states.

“Cavness credits her work with Middlebury’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship for the success of the company, noting that without that support, Sword & Plough would have remained just another interesting idea rather than an exciting reality,” according to the post.

“We have a broad ecosystem of structure and support for entrepreneurial students at Middlebury – Our Programs on Creativity and Innovation (PCI) offer a dozen opportunities for students to gather, be inspired and take advantage of mentors, funding and great space to take their new ideas forward,” said Elizabeth Robinson, associate dean of student creativity, engagement and careers, on Friday.

“Over 200 students a year use an incubator space – Old Stone Mill – in downtown Middlebury, on the Otter Creek,” Robinson said. “Classes like MiddCORE’s leadership and innovation program, our Center for Social Entrepreneurship that provides fellowships, symposia and a June educator’s forum – and our strong partnership with the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies – our colleagues there teach our Midd Entrepreneurs class over winter term, as well as mentor students and alums who are pursuing new ventures – these all contribute to a culture of creativity and innovation. We believe liberal arts and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. Empathy, leadership, critical thinking, creative thought, intercultural understanding — these are all qualities that help our students succeed with their new ventures but most importantly in their lives after Middlebury.”

Prominent Middlebury entrepreneurs include Ted Adler of Union Street Media; Colin Davis and David Dolginow of Shacksbury Cider; Benjy Adler of Skinny Pancake; Julianne Murat of Vergennes Laundry; Andy Rossmeissl of Faraday; and more.

Amy Ash Nixon

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  • Max D. Meridi

    With annual costs of somewhere around $64,019 (according to Forbes), one would hope that at least some Bennington College graduates would go on to “do” things.

    “Bennington College alumni have begun programs including a writing program for women incarcerated on Riker’s Island, a youth movement and new political party in Nepal, a software company and more traditional businesses, Silver said.”

    “Bennington alumni have launched science laboratories, art galleries, architectural firms, and more, Silver said.”

    “Begun”, “launched”. This is a little short on specifics. Who, and where, are they now?

    Middlebury, on the other hand, names names.

    “Prominent Middlebury entrepreneurs include Ted Adler of Union Street Media; Colin Davis and David Dolginow of Shacksbury Cider; Benjy Adler of Skinny Pancake; Julianne Murat of Vergennes Laundry; Andy Romsmeissl of Faraday; and more.”

    Kudos to them.

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