Brainstorming with Reedies

Students and alumni tackle problems together at MindStorm

By David James ’19 | December 1, 2017

Young people often hear that old cliché, “Do what you love.” Gourmet guru Mark Bitterman ’95 disagrees. He offered the Reedies sitting around him a different idea: “Entrepreneurs do what they hate.”

Welcome to the third iteration of MindStorm, hosted by the Center for Life Beyond Reed. The event helps students “feed their inner entrepreneur” by building connections with like-minded alumni, exploring real-world problems, and brainstorming real-world solutions. This year, Mindstorm was attended by about 60 students and 10 alumni, who came from all reaches of entrepreneurial life, from a fitness startup to sustainable materials to bioscience.

After assembling in Kaul Auditorium, participants split up into teams, each led by a Reed grad who outlined a particular problem they have had or are facing in their own businesses. At the end of the session, each team presented the problem and the solutions they had developed. Everyone was, of course, fueled by pizza and cookies.

Emily Corso ’10, an undefeated professional MMA fighter and religion major, owns and operates a gym named Bold and Badass Fitness in Southeast Portland. Her gym offers an alternative to traditional gym culture by offering a more inclusive environment. She asked her team how they would relocate her business without losing customers. The team soon got to work, probing the ins and outs of the business, including the rent on its current location, the programs it offers, and the requirements for applying for a small-business loan.

These are the sorts of questions returning MindStormer and philosophy major Dan Schultz ’18 is interested in. “Why did I come here? Well, I’m interested in starting a business, so why not talk to people who have already done that?”

Dan’s team grappled with a challenge presented by Michael Tippie ’80, a self described “serial entrepreneur” in the biosciences. The scenario was hard-hitting: decide on one of two futures for a new drug. Should they develop the new drug towards a potential cure for polycystic ovary syndrome, or toward hormone-free contraception? The team ultimately decided to focus on contraception for a variety of reasons, including the large number of people who would benefit and the opportunities it would create to develop other uses in time.

On the other side of Kaul, Mark Bitterman was saying, “Let’s go back to the beginning.” He runs Bitterman Salt, a Portland gourmet salt company, and asked his team to develop core values for a new line of edible salts. While they brainstormed, he offered them some insights. Entrepreneurs aren’t driven by the things they love, but the exact opposite. “They’re driven by a sense of imbalance or injustice or a problem in the world.”

The quest for a better world propels many of the ventures that Reedies launch, and the challenges reflect the complex issues and day-to-day problems entrepreneurs face in order to keep their dreams afloat. But the alumni at Mindstorm found that their background in the liberal arts has proven invaluable in the business world. Emily Corso said she brought her problem to MindStorm because Reedies specialize in finding solutions even with imperfect information.

Tags: Business, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Campus Life, Alumni, Life Beyond Reed