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17th Annual Lax Conference Aims to Align Business, Society Interests

Students compete in SwatTank

The conference will include the fourth annual Swat Tank student innovation competition, in which three teams of student present their ideas and concepts to a panel of judges. Pictured are 2015 SwatTank winners Mackenzie Welch ‘15 and Aldo Frosinini ’15.


The Jonathan R. Lax ’71 Conference on Entrepreneurship returns for its 17th year on Saturday, aiming to align the interests of business and society.

The annual conference will feature a panel discussion, networking opportunities, and the popular SwatTank Student Innovation competition. The theme of the day is shared or sustainable value — that is, businesses actively changing their practices to not only do good business but good for society. 

“It’s really a blended approach to business, merging commercial goals and social values, to create greater impact,” says Denise Crossan, Eugene M. Lang Visiting Professor for Issues in Social Change, who tapped colleagues within The Young Foundation, a nonprofit think tank in London that uses social innovation to ease inequities, and the European Union for the conference.

Among them is Baroness Glenys Thornton, CEO of the Young Foundation, who helped to pass the Equality Act of 2010 and contributed to the Equal Marriage Act, Forced Marriage Act, and legislation on violence against women in the UK.

Gorka Espiau, director of places and international affairs at The Young Foundation, will also participate. As head of the foundation’s Places program, Espiau fosters innovation and creative partnerships to tackle inequality and promote urban growth around the world.

At Espiau’s recommendation, Ibon Zugasti, director of social innovation research and development at Mondragon Engineering and Business Solutions, will also appear. Zugasti guides strategic planning of new business opportunities and product development with an eye toward finding solutions to social issues.

A fourth speaker is Juan José Ibarretxe, who was elected to the Basque Parliament in 1986 and served as president of Spain’s Basque Autonomous Community from 1999 to 2009.

“It’s a wonderful array of people used to putting people first, investing social values in business, and working to create impactful social change within communities and countries,” says Crossan.

Thornton will also serve as a judge of the fourth annual Swat Tank competition, which features presentations from the competition’s three teams of student finalists. There will also be a panel discussion, moderated by Espiau, on the reinvention of capitalism.

Among the other speakers at the conference are Steve Dean '11, the co-founder of Jobsuitors, a platform that takes the algorithms and principles of the online dating industry and applies them to recruiting in order to match job seekers to their best-fit employers; Eleanor Joseph ’07, the co-founder and CEO of Ubuntu Capital, which empowers individuals and small and medium-sized companies in emerging markets to develop their businesses; and Christopher Leinberger ’72, a land-use strategist, professor, developer, researcher, and author, who balances business realities with social and environmental concerns.

The conference will also have affinity lunches to engage students, parents, and alumni in lively conversation, and discussion groups exploring shared value in entrepreneurship, organizational management, and the field of social investing. Crossan sees the conference as a response to growing interest among the College community in social innovation and social entrepreneurship.

“There’s a huge opportunity for students in particular to understand and explore how they can go forward in their post-grad careers, embracing the idea of thriving in the world of business, whilst remaining true to the strong principles and social values they acquire at Swarthmore,” she says.

“Liberal arts thinking meets entrepreneurship in a social values context — there’s a lovely marriage there.”

About the Lax Conference

While at Swarthmore, Jonathan R. Lax ’71 created a mutual fund that he ran from his dorm room, one of many businesses he would start, and run, successfully. The Lax Conference honors his entrepreneurial spirit and practical nature by bringing together intellectual discussion with pragmatic conversations about starting and sustaining an entrepreneurial venture. Each year, the Conference attracts approximately 150 alumni, students, and friends who come to discuss entrepreneurship in all forms. 

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