A Critique of Business Entrepreneurship at Hampshire College

Xavier A. Torres de Janon

Is it possible to be an ethical, systematically aware social entrepreneur? I pose a legitimate question. The essential goal of ‘being’ an entrepreneur is the creation of a profitable enterprise, one which is capable of and adept at fully participating in capitalistic processes. Beyond the lofty, Admissions-pushed ideal that “all Hampshire College students are entrepreneurs in making their own education,” what we are talking about when we discuss ‘social entrepreneurship’ under capitalism is the creation of a functional, money-making enterprise. I know too many Hampshire students who will speak of the woes of capitalism, the unsustainability of free market economics, the horrific labor abuses imposed by neoliberal policy, the wars over oil and money the capitalist world promotes, the racial and gender violence such a system promotes, and so on. Then, the next day, these ‘socially conscious,’ supposedly systematically aware individuals, attempting to make change in the world, become Hampshire social entrepreneurs, new players in the world of capital, supply, demand, and – never forget – profit. My skepticism of the ethics of this conscious decision lies in this: if you are aware of the shortcomings of capitalism, why become an entrepreneur, and not an organizer? A founder of a non-profit? An actual creator of systemic change? Perhaps these students are attempting to ‘change the system from within,’ a hopeful endeavor that is perhaps over-idealistic. But, I digress.

The reality is that, apparently, our school now offers “Business and Entrepreneurship,” through our Center for Design (the Lemelson Building). With three professors engaged in this newest endeavor (two associate, one visiting, none permanent, all white men), this Area of Study promises a world that simply does not exist in our small, experimental, historically anti-business school. Among the list of ‘Sample Courses,’ the only one that is remotely business-related is “Social Entrepreneurship: Starting Your Own Socially Responsible Enterprise.” Although I might have ideological and personal objections to the entire concept of social entrepreneurship, my biggest frustration is that this Area of Study (particularly the big, bold, Business) at Hampshire College is just a facade. The school (consciously?) offers no academic courses on accounting, business law, financial management, international monetary systems, best investment practices, and so on, and the intermittent ‘economics courses’ are usually anti-mainstream economics and extremely critical of the world around us. How can a college possibly make a successful social entrepreneur if said individual is not exposed to the inescapable weight of money, laws, exploitation, networking, and one-upping of the business world through classes, but perhaps only instead to a critique of these systems? The conversation is a completely different one if Business and Entrepreneurship at Hampshire is targeted to high/middle-upper class students at the school, for whom money has never been an issue, and $1 million, post-college loans from relatives is normative (à-la-Trump). In other words, social entrepreneurship for those that can afford to recycle capital into new profitable horizons to be lovingly consumed by ‘progressive liberals.’

I have faced too many prospective students who want to study ‘entrepreneurship,’ who are enticed by the idea of ‘putting their ideas into action,’ and want to embody this Hampshire spirit. ‘Okay,’ I ask, ‘What ideas? What are you passionate about? Why Hampshire? What do you want to explore?’ The answer is sometimes simply “entrepreneurship;” that is, these students want to make change, change the world, be social entrepreneurs, with no content, context, passion or knowledge in their minds other than profit-making and an attraction to a school where no ideas are wrong, where you can (if you can find a way) continuously enroll in entrepreneurship classes, create independent studies on entrepreneurship, and then execute a profitable enterprise through your Div III. I am being exceptionally cynical, but my question remains: is Hampshire actually offering Business & Entrepreneurship, or is this a (very successful) publicity stunt? To close, a final, practical question: where does Business & Entrepreneurship even fit under our 5 Interdisciplinary Schools? Apparently, based on the affiliated faculty’s pages, under Interdisciplinary Arts (IA).

One comment

  1. Sky Hayes · · Reply

    Hey Xavier, I feel it’s only fitting for me to respond as this is basically what I have done at Hampshire.

    I like many others came to Hampshire to have a unique education. One where I felt more powerful in the decisions I made every day regarding how I choose to be successful. I am now in my last semester and I run a semi-successful business creating glass art in Lemelson Center that I then sell via Instagram and through other forms of social interaction. I also built a studio in my garage where I give people lessons so that they can learn how to blow glass too. I revived a fading glass club at Hampshire and have given many students the space and tools they need to explore glass art as a creative and sometimes profitable means of self expression. Is my business ethical? It is commonly known that I make pipes to used for smoking. I also make cups and vessels that are functional as well as ornamental. I also make a lot of work that is not functional at all and is only valued because of its appearance.

    I use a lot of propane and liquid oxygen which isn’t positive for the environment. I buy raw glass material from American and Asian sources.I inevitably end up having a lot of glass that is waste which I throw out. Environmentally I don’t think I am making a positive impact to the earth.

    Socially I think I am supporting the freedom to choose what people put into their own bodies. I don’t think making a pipe is different than making a vessel. I don’t think pipe making is a social evil. I don’t think cannabis and cannabis users are unethical people.

    My goal is to open up a studio as a non-profit. Learning to blow glass is empowering, but also prohibitively expensive for many, especially when learning and your work isn’t good enough to sell. Ideally I would open a studio where I can train people (as I have trained myself and many others since Spring 2013) to know how to blow glass but also to understand the methods behind teaching others. Myself and the teachers will use the space as a creative learning environment to push each others boundaries and explore the possibilities of glass art. We will also give free lessons, or have a sliding scale model based on income so that people who are passionate about blowing glass can learn in exchange for devoting their time and assistance to the studio.

    Unfortunately, glass working is expensive, and without being wealthy myself or becoming very successful as an independent artist (unlikely) this will be extremely difficult. I do think though that if the money was there, this would be an extremely positive thing for almost any community.

    Now to answer your question…do I feel like Hampshire’s entrepreneurship programs helped me to end up where I am today? In a lot of ways actually yes. One of the visiting professor’s (Tamara Stenn) really pushed me initially to put my work out there. This lead to me realizing the value in the work I create. I have taken several social entrepreneurship classes and to be completely honest, I didn’t feel like they were very helpful. At Hampshire I think if you have a passion and you wake up every day dedicated to exploring that passion, eventually you will see positive results. But I don’t think that is because of Hampshire’s programs, or because of its faculty. I personally don’t feel like the classes I took and the Faculty that I have worked with have been super helpful. If I am not in Lemelson 6 – 10 hours every day making my work better, I will not be making anything worth selling. No Faculty can make that happen for me, and as far as learning marketing strategies or how to be competitive, or how to file taxes for my business or make it into an LLC, attending courses at Hampshire College hasn’t helped.

    What has been helpful is the money they give me. If anybody starts a club at Hampshire College, they are able to request money through the CLA to fund their activities. What would have been an extremely expensive hobby to get good at ended up costing no more than my tuition. I was able to practice being really shitty at blowing glass without anxiety over buying more glass or a new torch or an element in my kiln dying. I could just wake up every day, go over to Lemelson and “play”, and because of this I think Hampshire has helped me to start an ethical business with a future in a non-profit socially ethical business sharing my passion for glass art with the world in an attempt to empower others through creative expression in molten glass.

    Thanks for reading,

    Sky Hayes

    Like

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