Scramble at Microsoft NERD

“Anyone can lock someone in a room and tell them to build something,” says StartUp Scramble founder and Babson MBA Stephen Douglass. And he’s right. Any student entrepreneur can stroll into a room on a Friday night, hack their way through the weekend and demo a prototype come Sunday afternoon. But, if the end goal is to merely build something, what are those participants achieving?

The StartUp Scramble is a 48-hour intensive program designed to “scramble” the lines between real world experience and education. Although Douglass has held StartUp Scrambles locally before, whether at Microsoft NERD or the Harvard innovation lab, he claims this season’s Scramble series “represents the pivot from a focus on startups to entrepreneurial development.”

The end goal is for college students to walk away with a better understanding of who they are, not just what they can build. Although the Scramble does offer skill-building sessions, what the program also offers is data from Talent Analytics, Corp., a company who’s partnered with Douglass to provide customized, immediate feedback on students’ personal performance. After taking the report, students can learn how to leverage their traits and characteristics to better position themselves in the marketplace.

“It was a really helpful report,” admits Wellesley student Yuki Zhu, who recently participated in a StartUp Scramble with students from Babson, Olin and Wellesley. “The report included most of the attributes I identify with, and it was helpful to have everything on paper.” Fellow Wellesley student Ivy Wang agreed, saying she now wants to hone in more on her skills before trying to start her own company.

At the beginning of every Scramble, Douglass warns students that not everyone will make it through to the end of the weekend. Following this weekend’s return of the Scramble to the Harvard innovation lab, Douglass looked at the remaining participants and said, “It’s an endurance challenge and congratulations if you’re sitting here today getting ready to pitch.

Everything from augmented reality apps and vaccine carriers to “Code RED,” a mobile app connecting women with other women in times of female “periodic emergencies,” spun out of this weekend. Yet, on top of developing a products, participants were also given access to a talented pool of coaches and panelists, including Ryan Allis, founder of iContact; Walter Somol, director of community outreach at Microsoft NERD; Gordon Jones, managing director of the Harvard innovation lab; and Abby Fichtner, executive director of hack/reduce.

Prior Scramble at Harvard

Following the StartUp Scramble held at Babson, Co-President of the Babson Entrepreneurship Club Andy Cole said they received “very, very positive feedback — and that’s probably an understatement.” Over the weekend, he admitted participants were able to create an environment where people felt safe and were given the chance to know each other. Although they might not have walked away with a fully-fledged business idea on Sunday, they did walk away with the contacts necessary to build a business in the future.

“Stephen brings a ton of energy,” Cole says, referring to why they decided to bring the Scramble to Babson. “He has a great way of talking to an audience and connecting with them. … He’s very talented, because he’s able to adjust on the fly.”

Cole claimed they also welcomed the program in, because they “wanted to harness all that entrepreneurial energy and turn it into huge momentum.” By hosting a Scramble at the beginning of the school year, students were able to get the confidence they need to start building sooner rather than later.

To Douglass, the goal is to begin mapping “the emerging entrepreneurial student talent,” which is what helps differentiate his program from others out there. Moving forward, he’s also working with technology firms and financial institutions “to help them create an entrepreneurial edge in the marketplace through their talent.”

With the next Scramble taking place at Boston College from November 2 through November 4, it’s safe to say the student community is in good hands. What outsiders need to do, however, is start paying more attention to the events they’re attending and start scrutinizing them. Although building something in one weekend can be a good learning experience, you haven’t built anything of substance if you don’t know who you are as an entrepreneur.