Arnell Milhouse and Laura Thompson ’09 will help students build startups and develop ideas as this year’s Entrepreneurs in Residence at the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship.
Since their appointment in May, Thompson and Milhouse have started mentoring students during their office hours.
Thompson and Milhouse both have experience as entrepreneurs, but have taken different paths to their current roles.
Thompson was in part inspired to become an entrepreneur because of the class “ENGN 1010: The Entrepreneurial Process,” taught by Danny Warshay ’87 P ’20 P ’23, now director of the Nelson Center. In his class, Thompson worked with some friends to start Runa, a company that sells healthy energy drinks. After graduation, she worked at Google for seven years, contributing to projects like smart contact lenses, self-driving cars and delivery drones.
When Warshay was considering candidates for the EIR position, Thompson “was very clearly at the top of the list,” he said. She had already returned to the University multiple times to give talks and mentor students.
“I see the EIR spot or position as an excuse to continue doing all the work I’ve done so far,” she said.
Thompson’s main goal while serving as an EIR is to offer “experience and encouragement for students.”
“The best advice for students wanting to go into entrepreneurship is just to play with things they are excited about, especially while they’re at Brown,” she said.
Milhouse, who is a Providence resident and attended Johnson and Wales University, has spent most of his career working in startups that benefit the Providence and Rhode Island communities. He founded and now runs a STEM education nonprofit called IntraCity Geeks. He is also the CEO and co-founder of CareerDevs Computer Science University, a year-long program that provides computer science education.
Warshay and Milhouse met in a VIP tent at a WaterFire Providence event. The two stayed in touch, and Milhouse began getting involved in programming at the Nelson Center.
“He was larger than life,” Warshay said. “(He was) very enthusiastic about both what we were doing and about what he was doing.”
As an EIR, Milhouse will host Socratic-style discussions in a series of twice monthly workshops collectively called the Startup Forum.
“I’ve been combing through some of the world’s best entrepreneurial instructional videos, podcasts and blogs (for the forum),” Milhouse said. “Students will be able to gain some ideas and insights into what they should do for a startup.”
Milhouse also plans to encourage first-years and sophomores to begin startups so that they can use the University’s resources to grow their companies during their four years.
“One of my goals is really (to) reach out to the (first-year) and sophomore community to really drive entrepreneurship into the hearts and minds of the community at an earlier age,” Milhouse said.
The EIR program will allow Milhouse to expand his work with the University while continuing to work with local communities.
“I see the Entrepreneur in Residence program here at Brown really as a force multiplier, as a fulcrum that can really help me align some of my vision and my talent to light a fuse and spark some innovation within Brown but also throughout the Rhode Island community in general,” Milhouse said.
The Nelson Center has “a very strong, intentional, meaningful relationship with the community beyond Brown,” Warshay said. As the first EIR who did not attend the University, Milhouse will help the Nelson Center expand its reach in the Rhode Island community further, Warshay added.
Milhouse will work out of the Nelson Center’s space at the corner of Thayer Street and Euclid Avenue, but Thompson will serve as a mentor remotely from San Francisco while coming to campus several times over the course of the year. Their work represents an expansion of the EIR program, which hosted Jessica Kim ’00 as its inaugural entrepreneur last year.
Positive student feedback and Kim’s success as a mentor encouraged the Nelson Center to bring in two EIRs this year, Warshay said.
“We had conceived of this program in the very beginning, but we wanted to get a sense of the demand first, the need first before we created a solution,” Warshay said. “I think (students) liked the fact that there is an embedded resource.”
The Nelson Center was founded in 2016 to promote entrepreneurship among University students and in the Providence community.
“I’m totally amazed by how the ecosystem of entrepreneurship has grown at Brown since I was there — it has just exploded,” Thompson said. “You have such a cool opportunity to be surrounded by super smart, interesting people. ... My advice would be to take advantage of that.”