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Benjamin Skinner is a 4th year student at Tufts University studying computer science. He is the Co-Founder and President of Jumbo Ventures. Jumbo Ventures is a community for students interested in entrepreneurship and startups. I talked with Ben about what led him to start the organization on campus, how to get involved, and more.
Kieran: Hey, Ben, thanks for joining me. Do you want to introduce yourself?
Ben: My name is Ben. I’m a senior at Tufts University studying computer science. So, I’m in my last year of college and looking forward to getting out into the world and finishing college strong. So, it’s a pretty exciting time now.
Kieran: I contacted you because I was excited about your work at Jumbo Ventures. I know you are one of the co-founders. What need did you see on campus that led you to want to start this organization?
Ben: I’m interested in entrepreneurship, and I was looking to create a community on campus that had that same interest. So, the fundamental purpose of it was building community. I think everything else about Jumbo Ventures is secondary — we do a lot of events and educational-type stuff. But really, the primary purpose was that I wanted to meet other entrepreneurs, learn from them, and create a community of people with interests, ambitions, and goals similar to mine. I didn’t find that on campus during my first year. So, a friend of mine and I just talked about it a bit towards the end of my first year, and over the summer, we worked on it and made it happen. Now, here we are two and a half years later – we’ve taken the first step towards building an entrepreneurial community on campus.
Kieran: How does someone get into this community? Is there an application process? Can you walk us through that?
Ben: We had an application process for the first three semesters of the club’s existence. So, people would apply to be members of the cohort. We moved away from that to just being more of a casual group where you can show up whenever you want. It’s very low commitment and low pressure. We may pivot back to doing an application process again in the future. So, this information may change. Currently, we have a club meeting once every two weeks on Wednesday evenings, and it’s just a space for Tufts entrepreneur students to come together. We’ll do different activities in the future, but for now, people can show up whenever they want and have whatever sort of involvement in the club that feels appropriate to them.
Kieran: What are the biggest opportunities to improve this club?
Ben: In the long term, the most significant thing would be getting more students involved, especially students from different backgrounds. Something I’ve thought about a lot —- I think some people on campus would really like to be a part of a startup but don’t know what entrepreneurship is or view it as their thing. I think a lot about engineers or people doing research – it could be somebody interested in some science, biotech, etc. They are purely all about doing research and don’t know about entrepreneurship. Getting people like that involved would be awesome. We want to bring people doing cool stuff into the entrepreneurial sphere and start trying to connect those people and people interested in the business side of things. So, really, getting more students involved would be a tremendous improvement to the club.
Kieran: How do you go about solving that? What do you think is the initial solution?
Ben: The first year was an uphill battle because nobody had heard of the club. We were starting from scratch, and at some point, we got enough name recognition that now people know what Jumbo Ventures is and have friends in it. Now that we have won that name-recognition battle to a certain extent, I think it’s a matter of being creative in how we reach out to people and doing it in unique ways — really making an effort to reach those groups. There are conventional marketing methods like posting in the class social media stuff, but I think we need to make targeted efforts by talking to specific professors, reaching out directly to people we want to be a part of the community, or whatever it is.
Kieran: What do you see as the goal of this club? Is it just educational, and you want people to get a taste of entrepreneurship by attending these meetings, or do you hope people take the next step and start building something or join a startup? What do you want the outcome to be?
Ben: The optimal outcome would be that either somebody in the club starts an actual venture, in which case that would be super cool, or alternatively, somebody who is already working on a venture would receive a lot of value from being part of this community – maybe find mentors, co-founders, partners, whatever it is. The goal is for people to work on some venture – that is what the club is built around. That being said, people can get all sorts of value adds from it. I mean, really, whatever people want to get out of it as long as it is giving them some sort of value. I mean, that’s all you can ask for at the end of the day.
Kieran: When do you recruit internal team members and how do people get involved?
Ben: We’re a casual group because there is no real application process or timeline. If you want to join the internal team, just talk to us and show interest, initiative, and passion. The internal Jumbo Ventures team is very self-driven in that if you join the team and want to slack off, no one’s really going to force you to get stuff done. You should only join the team if you want to do things, lead projects, develop new ideas, and be a leader on some specific initiative. So, if you want to join, I would say talk to us and show us that you want to do something to make the club a better value add for the Tufts entrepreneurial community.
Kieran: Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you think is important for a student who wants to join the club or someone who wants to join the internal team?
Ben: The one thing I’d say is whenever somebody asks how to get the most out of Jumbo Ventures — the answer I always give is you get out what you put in. I think that’s super true. We’ve had people who have come to club meetings, had fun, learned stuff, and got a small value add. On the other hand, we’ve had people who come and are super engaged, talk with the speakers afterward, get the speaker’s email, and get internships and job offers from speakers. Being a club member and part of the Jumbo Ventures leadership team, you get out what you put in. No one is making you do anything. It’s just trying to provide an opportunity for you, so if you put in the work and put yourself out there and try your best to get a lot out of the club, we’re hopeful that we’ve created a community and space where that is possible.