“Most Entrepreneurs Don’t Think About Their Culture Until It’s on Top of Them”

Robert Stringer, director of the Babson SVP, will discuss 'soft business issues' with student startups
By Lucia Maffei - February 14, 2019

By his own admission, Robert “Bob” Stringer is not “a high-tech guru.” His experience is in what he calls “good-for-you, health and wellness, food and beverage” startups.

Bob Stringer (Photo provided by Babson)

Still, the new director of the Babson Summer Venture program – a 10-week long program that aims at accelerating the development of student ventures from Babson, Olin College of Engineering and Wellesley – knows he’s likely to encounter many tech startups as the new edition of the program prepares to select the final 15.

Stringer took over the position from David Chang, who was the first non-faculty member to hold the role. He’s been long associated with Babson as a lecturer; he was also the founding general partner of Sherbrooke Capital, a $100 million VC firm based in Boston.

We reached out to Stringer to discuss his appointment—plus many other things, such as how early-stage entrepreneurs tend to underestimate the importance of culture building, and the Babson companies in his portfolio.

When did you first hear about the Babson Summer Venture Program?

I have a long relationship with Babson, having taught there in the MBA program. Then, I ran a program during the summer called the “Global Entrepreneurship Program.” So, I was somewhat familiar with the Blank Center, and I know David Chang [former director of the Summer Venture Program, currently CEO of Gradifi since November 2018], and I know Debi Kleiman, who runs the SVP … She reached out to me and I expressed my interest.

Can you describe for me the moment when you thought, “Ok, I want to take over this role”?

I’ve done a lot of different things in my career: venture, investing, angel investing; I’ve started a few businesses; I teach; I’ve consulted; I’ve written some books. But there’s nothing more fun, for me, than hanging out with a bunch of people who are passionate about what they do.

What is your experience about working with companies that are really, really early-stage?

I have a portfolio of, originally, 38 companies, now it’s down to about 30. Included in my investments, there are four companies founded by people who were my actual students at Babson. They started from absolute scratch. So I’m very used to – and enjoy, quite frankly – working with enterprises that haven’t yet been born.

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"As Long as There Are No Capes, Wearables Can Only Improve Human Health"

Really enjoying this posting from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Blog of President Travis Mcreedy.  We had an amazing meeting last week, and he runs an awesome organization Massachusetts Life Sciences which is well worth checking out as tech, life sciences, the body and designer all increasingly intersect and drive innovation.  But I will let his writing tell you!

From the Massachusetts Life Sciences Blog
By Travis Mcreedy.

"This past week, I met Edna.  Well, in fact, I met four Ednas, and one of them is a man.

For those of you not familiar with the 2004 Disney animated film The Incredibles, Edna was one of the most memorable characters, responsible for providing all the superheroes with their high-tech kit.  Imagine if Versace and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) could somehow have a child, it would be Edna – designer of high-tech, smart fabrics that functionally enhance human performance that are, equally, human-centered and haute couture.  As someone with children who are equal parts athlete, geek, and fashionista, I am not ashamed to say that meeting four real life Ednas was exceptionally cool.

Yuly Fuentes-Medel, Julianne Gauron, Yolita Nugent, and Adam Whiton are among the avant-garde of “convergence” innovators – capable scientists on the cutting edge, who mash together computer/data science, biology, engineering, and the arts – targeting wearables as a vector for enhancing human performance.  Between the four, they have worked with organizations such as North Face, New Balance, and TJX.  A latest project for the US Department of Defense was to redesign infantry’s “ballistic combat shirt” with properties that are flame retardant,  withstand small arms fire…and are more comfortable and lighter to wear than a soldier’s current kit.

Mses. Fuentes-Medel, Gauron, Nugent and Messr. Whiton envision wearables as an extension of the human nervous system – a complex, human-centric technology that senses, takes in data, analyzes that data, then reacts.  This approach requires fundamentally rethinking not only science, but also fashion, textiles and manufacturing.  The possibilities in the health care context are endless…and Massachusetts, with its ‘digital health’, life sciences, and manufacturing expertise, is poised to lead the way.  Local companies like MC10 out of Lexington are recognized leaders in developing flexible electronic fabrics for health care uses, including everything from hydration monitoring and head impact measuring to biodegradable implants.  And the community will only get stronger with this summer’s addition of multibillion dollar wearables giant Flextronics International to the Boston Innovation District.

“Life sciences” is more than just biotech, pharma and drugs.  At the MLSC, our mandate covers the medical device, diagnostics and bioinformatics sectors as well, and having such subsector diversity contributes to our unique, strong and resilient life sciences ecosystem. It would appear that in this diversity, we have all the ingredients to innovate and lead in medical, human-centric wearables. According to health thinktank Rock Health, Massachusetts has the fourth most vibrant digital health sector in the US. Phillips, and its Internet of Things (IoT)/Wearables division have a large presence in Massachusetts, along with medical device leaders Johnson & Johnson, Boston Scientific, Hologic, and Medtronic and health IT juggernaut IBM Watson Health.  Researchers at our medical institutions like Mass. Eye and Ear, Boston Children’s, and Harvard Medical School are also exploring wearables and how to deliver hard to administer drugs to better ensure patient adherence.  And let’s not forget that this spring, Massachusetts was named as the headquarters for the $317MM public-private Revolutionary Fiber and Textile Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

As Edna from The Incredibles said, “I never look back, darling.  It distracts from the now.”  And right now, Massachusetts is experiencing a wearable tech moment."