Startups That Matter

At first it might seem like an unlikely match – a senior theology student in an MBA class on entrepreneurship. But, for Samuel Holley (C ’16), it’s a perfect fit.

“When people ask what I want to do with my theology degree — after they get over the initial shock that I don’t want to be a pastor or an academic — I tell them that my long-term goal is to be an author, speaker, and entrepreneur,” Holley said. “The whole reason I study what I study is to find out what allows people to live well.”

Holley is one of 23 students in “Starting a Startup That Matters,” co-taught by Jeff Reid, founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative, and Donna Harris and Evan Burfield, co-founders of 1776, a global startup incubator and seed fund headquartered in Washington, D.C. The seven-week course includes undergraduate and graduate students from across Georgetown University, including from the McDonough School of Business, Walsh School of Foreign Service, the Law Center, McCourt School of Public Policy, and Georgetown College.

The course is a first-of-its-kind partnership between 1776 and Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business to explore how entrepreneurship is solving the world’s most important challenges, with a focus on education, healthcare, energy and sustainability, and cities and transportation. More than a “how-to-start-a-business” class, the course brings together research and practice to develop students who want to be forces for good.

“The Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative and 1776 have shared values and goals and mission,” said Reid. “Both organizations believe in the power of entrepreneurship to make a positive difference in the world.”

Each Monday evening, students hear from accomplished speakers, including entrepreneurs and investors, lawmakers, and institutional CIOs, who are working to create impactful innovation. The lectures are posted online each week to allow broader access and to foster ongoing discussions.

“It is core to Georgetown to want to solve problems in the world, and startups and entrepreneurship are a big way to do that,” Reid said. “1776 has built a business on that, and together, we want to share that message with our students and a broader audience.”

Harris hopes students apply an entrepreneurial way of thinking to their lives, regardless of their field of study.

“While there are many courses, books, and materials that teach the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, this class focuses on both basic entrepreneurial principles and the challenges and unique strategies for starting a startup that really matters to our world,” Harris said.

Student Michael Kelly (MBA ’16) has worked at a local venture capital firm for the past year, and is considering VC as a career option when he graduates from the Full-time MBA program in May.

“I am especially interested in early stage investing, identifying strong founding teams is essential to making smart investments,” he said. “Through this course I hope to refine my understanding of how great entrepreneurs think and act, and also learn from effective strategies they’ve used to find success.”

For Holley, the class has provided a new lens with which to view the world of entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurship is about making change creatively, however that looks,” Holley said. “Any idea that changes the world is a startup of sorts. And any person who sparks change is an entrepreneur.”