Amplifying Entrepreneurial Connections

Tufts alumni organize an entrepreneurship and technology summit in San Francisco on June 14
photo of the Golden Gate Bridge with logo for Amplify event overlaid
“I soon realized there are so many amazing people that started their journeys at Tufts,” said AMPLIFY organizer Josh Goldman.
June 6, 2019

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Josh Goldman, A88, has a passion for transforming bright ideas into successful startups. That drive is now fueling a new alumni event. AMPLIFY, the inaugural Tufts entrepreneurship and technology summit, will be held on Friday, June 14 in San Francisco.

By tapping personal connections from his decades of working in Silicon Valley and scouring LinkedIn, Goldman found and brought together a veritable who’s who of entrepreneurs, innovators, business leaders, tech company executives, and venture capitalists—savvy business leaders like Jim Friedland, A92, director of investor relations at Alphabet, Julie Schoenfeld, E79, vice president of Cruise Automation, and Lucia Villar, A05, executive director of digital transformation at JPMorgan Chase.  

Registration is still ongoing for the event, which is open to all members of the Tufts community. Goldman hopes that current Tufts students, parents, and matriculating Tufts students across northern California will take advantage of this unusual opportunity to learn from seasoned experts. Attendees are also coming from Boston, New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles.

“This is a great opportunity to meet, network, and learn about some of the biggest recent technology trends and innovations,” said Goldman, a venture capitalist and angel investor and member of the Board of Advisors for the Tufts Entrepreneurship Center.

“Entrepreneurs can come from any discipline,” said Josh Goldman. “If you’re a dancer or a sculptor and that’s your passion—and you follow your passion after your education and are determined to change the world within that universe—you’re an entrepreneur.”Goldman has been successfully building, running, and investing in startups for some twenty-five years. He was bit by the entrepreneurial bug early on, starting as a kid shoveling snow in Chicago. In high school, he built his own software company, and at Tufts, where he was among a handful of computer science majors—a classmate was eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, E89, H11—he came up with Tufts Lighting and Sound, bringing much-needed technical support to concerts, lectures, and parties.

After getting his M.B.A. at Harvard Business School, Goldman moved to Silicon Valley to begin creating tech companies, including comparison shopping engine MySimon, which was acquired in 2000 for $730 million. Later, as a venture capitalist for twelve years at Norwest Venture Partners, Goldman invested in dozens of tech startups, including RetailMeNot, Lumosity, Casper Sleep, and IFTTT, and is a personal angel investor in thirty other early stage companies.

Tufts’ strategic investments in building entrepreneurship into its academic mission has been a welcome direction, Goldman said, and he has been happy to return to Medford for the past four years as judge and mentor for the Tufts $100K New Ventures Competition. Tufts Now reached out to Goldman to learn about AMPLIFY and the growing role of entrepreneurship.

Tufts Now: What gave you the idea to put the event together?

Josh Goldman: My first goal was to raise the profile of Tufts in the tech and venture capital community in Silicon Valley. Tufts is well known around the world, but it’s not necessarily the first school you think of when you think entrepreneurship, and there is a great history of Tufts graduates doing cool startups. So that was part of our motivation—to share that recognition.

But I also wanted to promote and strengthen a sense of the alumni community out here in the San Francisco Bay Area, to bring together graduates who can help each other, but who may not find it easy to make those connections on their own.

In the business world, networking is so important, especially when you’re getting started. It can be very helpful to the new graduate to have people who can give you confidential and trustworthy advice, and one of the best ways to do that is to find common ground. I thought an event like this could help improve and solidify that community for networking and advice.

What do you want attendees to come away with from AMPLIFY?

Most importantly I want each person to find inspiration and confidence in his or her ability to do something entrepreneurial. I hope they will learn from those who have come before them, and that they will network with those who can help them wherever they are.

This is the first program of its kind for Tufts. How did you develop it? 

I studied similar efforts at other schools—Dartmouth, Carnegie Mellon, Babson, MIT—to get a good understanding of best practices. I also met with other Tufts alums here in the San Francisco area and eventually we formed an organizing committee. People at Tufts were enthusiastic about the idea: Dean Qu at the School of Engineering, Tufts Entrepreneurship Center director Jack Derby, and Chuck Auster [A73, founder and partner of RunTide Capital Partners], who is chair of the Board of Advisors of the Entrepreneurship Center. Leaders from the Office of Alumni Relations, the Career Center, and the Advancement office joined in on the effort as well, contributing resources and know-how.

You found an extraordinary array of talented and highly successful people to participate—how did that happen?

I started with some alums I’ve known out here for many years, including fellow venture capitalists from Tufts like Matt Murphy of Menlo Ventures and Steve McDermid of Emerson Collective, who quickly agreed to join the effort and share their knowledge at the event. I then searched on LinkedIn for Tufts alums in the San Francisco Bay area. I came back with thousands of graduates and then just started looking at their titles.

I soon realized there are so many amazing people that started their journeys at Tufts. Julie Schoenfeld is a leader in thinking about automated vehicles. Scott Sanborn is CEO of Lending Club that went public in 2014. Steve Svajian is co-founder and CEO of Anova Culinary, recently acquired for over $250 million. Daniel Emerson is co-CEO of Light & Motion, a company he built into the leader in sports and photography lighting products. Other graduates like Stephen Bluestein of Light Street Capital and Jim Friedland from Google are successful business analysts with a deep knowledge of investment strategies.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I reached out—I thought maybe we could put together a morning program. But just about all of them said “Yes, I’m in!” People want to help Tufts. I don’t know anyone who went to Tufts who doesn’t love it. Everyone I know wants to do more to help the school. This was another way to help.

In addition to the panel presentations, are there specific program highlights you think make this event different from a regular entrepreneurship conference?

One focal point is called “Lessons Learned,” where entrepreneurs speak about what worked and what didn’t along their journey. Often when you talk to great founders of startups you will hear: “I made this mistake,” or “I did this, and it set us back.” We wanted to be sure to capture those lessons, because failure—and overcoming failure—is part of every success story.

Then we also wanted to include a concept we called “Office Hours.” We thought as long as we have these venture capitalists and lawyers and entrepreneurs all in one place, it would be great if people could to sign up for short one-on-one consultations with VCs, executives, and advisors to get advice on any challenge they are facing: a career path, a startup idea, funding strategies.

People love the idea of getting personal advice, and because this is a Tufts event, there is a built-in level of trust. Because we’re all Jumbos, people can know that they we have trusted advisors who will be helpful and not violate confidentiality.

In a surprising departure, you don’t have a traditional business expert wrapping up the event. Deke Sharon, A91, who has been called the “father of contemporary a cappella,” is your closing speaker. How did that come about?

My wife Judy [Meltzer, A88] was president of the Jackson Jills, and we have always both loved a cappella. Getting Deke to give the closing talk was a big coup. He’s a legend—and he’s got a little surprise for us, too. He won’t just be talking.

I think everyone can learn from Deke’s example. He is a perfect repeat entrepreneur. After he graduated from Tufts he asked himself: “How do I keep singing? This is my passion. How do I make a career of it?” That’s why I thought he’d bring a powerful closing message about how to turn your passion into something that is lasting.

That is, in my mind, what an entrepreneur is. Especially here in Silicon Valley, it’s easy to forget that to be an entrepreneur you don’t have to know how to code. You don’t have to know how to design a circuit. You don’t have to be an engineer or know about hardware or software. Entrepreneurs can come from any discipline. If you’re a dancer or a sculptor and that’s your passion—and you follow your passion after your education and are determined to change the world within that universe—you’re an entrepreneur.

To learn more about AMPLIFY and to register, go here. Tickets are $80 for the entire day, including breakfast, lunch, and an evening happy hour.

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.