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Gordon Institute welcomes new resident entrepreneur
Thursday, 22 October 2009 00:00

As the university’s new entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR), Ronald Croen (LA ’76) is on a campaign to give entrepreneurship a greater presence at Tufts.

Croen, founder of the software technology company Nuance Communications, is the second person to serve in the position, which represents part of an effort by the Gordon Institute’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (ELP) to provide students with real-world business experience.

“Entrepreneurship is not in the culture here yet, but it is at other institutions such as MIT and Stanford [University],” Croen told the Daily. “I hypothesize that there is a lot of potential in the university research sphere for commercial ventures.”

Over the course of the year, Croen will divide his time between mentoring students on commercial ventures, conducting research and teaching the program’s entrepreneurial leadership class during the spring semester. So far, Croen has already started advising a doctoral candidate and Tufts alumni.

The Gordon Institute loosely established the EIR position last year, giving it to Mara Aspinall (J ’83), former president of Genzyme Genetics.

Pamela Goldberg, program director of the ELP, called last year’s creation of the EIR position an “experiment” that started with a phone call from Aspinall, who was leaving her company.

“It happened out of thin air,” Goldberg said. “Together we figured it out, crafted the role.”

This year, the Gordon Institute invited Croen to succeed Aspinall. Croen’s company, Nuance, specializes in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, popular voice recognition software used in customer-service calls. Goldberg called Nuance “the largest and most successful” company in the VoIP field.

Although the EIR position is unpaid, Croen said he was drawn to the opportunity to work with students because of its contrast to corporate jobs.

“I liked the teaching involved,” he said. “There was the opportunity to give back, done in different ways. Teachers learn as much as the students through the opportunity to take account and learn what they’re actually doing. When I was in the middle of [the corporate world], I didn’t have the framework to synthesize my observations and push for clarity.”

Hailing from San Francisco, Croen leaves his family on the West Coast to join the Tufts community for a year. Croen majored in political science at Tufts and received a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He called the transition to the East Coast “a cultural shift in alternating rhythms and daily activities,” but he said it was part of an entrepreneur’s sensibility to grab opportunities when they present themselves.

“Implicit in entrepreneurial mentality is a risk-taking attitude, tolerance for the unknown, appetite for thinking differently and ability to seize opportunity,” he said. “The EIR position presented an opportunity.”

The ELP was founded in 2002 and is a branch of the School of Engineering’s Gordon Institute. Although the Gordon Institute is predominantly geared toward engineers, they and entrepreneurs alike stress a mantra of creativity and innovation, according to Goldberg.

“Engineering leadership fits nicely with the mission of the institute. The engineering and entrepreneurship schools are very much dovetails,” she said.

The engineering leadership discipline at Tufts got a boost of its own earlier this semester, when the university announced its receipt of a $40 million gift from Bernard Gordon, the founder of the Gordon Institute. Part of the money will be put toward improving Tufts’ engineering leadership program.

Jerry Brightman, a lecturer on leadership development with the Gordon Institute, said that Croen’s experience leading a successful company will offer a valuable example to students.

“I am certain that his role as entrepreneur-in-residence will be a wonderful addition to the school and will do a great deal to enhance the school’s reputation as a strong and viable entrepreneurial institution,” Brightman said.

Brightman added that bringing Croen into the fold at the institute could help garner more recognition for Tufts as a leading entrepreneurial educator.

“Once he completes his time here at Tufts and students and faculty have had time to interact with Ron, word will begin to spread and our reputation as a major player in the entrepreneurial world will definitely expand,” Brightman said.

 

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