New College Educates Florida's Entrepreneurs

Guest Correspondence

Photos: Norm Worthington, Maxeme Tuchman

New College students have founded multiple successful companies in Florida—after they have graduated and, sometimes, even before.

Alumnus Norm Worthington, the founder and CEO of Star2Star, sold his Sarasota tech firm last week for $437 million. Maxeme Tuchman, the Miami-based co-founder and CEO of Caribu (an interactive video-calling platform), was named one of Inc. Magazine’s “Top 100 Female Founders for 2019.”

In the past 10 years, recent New College graduates have launched new companies like Stocking Savvy (environmental consulting) and Energize Dance Studio in Sarasota, Four Tens Digital (marketing and video content) and Meyer & Myers (a museum art services firm) in Tampa, and The Bureau (adventure games) in Orlando.

One of our current students, third-year Aleah Colón-Alfonso, has already built two companies while living on campus: Aleah Wares (a line of sweaters for patients undergoing IV treatments) and Stay Safely Away (wearable merchandise that allows customers with immune issues to “stay distantly social” during the pandemic).

So why do so many future entrepreneurs attend New College?

Statements like “New College taught me how to think” and “I learned critical-thinking skills at New College,” I find, are echoed the most among our successful alumni and students. And noticing that pattern got me, well, thinking, about what that really means. What is critical thinking, exactly? How does it translate into post-graduate prosperity?

Critical thinking is, in essence, the discipline of analyzing and synthesizing concepts—a practice that is best cultivated in small New College classrooms, where students connect one on one with brilliant professors who challenge them intellectually. Students learn to dissect and carefully solve complex problems, and this ultimately becomes an attribute that allows them to flourish in the job market.

When critical thinking is coupled with autonomy (taking charge of one’s own education by creating an individualized learning experience, which is a cornerstone of the New College model), students learn to be self-starters. The better we are at both thinking critically and learning to act, the more we can use our skills for the greater good—to change ourselves and, ultimately, change the world.

This kind of outside-the-box thinking is exemplified in the work of alumni like Worthington. He graduated from New College in 1982, went on to law school, taught himself programming, launched several software companies and became a venture capitalist. He started his newly sold business, Star2Star (a cloud communications services and software firm), in his Sarasota garage in 2006 and employed multiple New College graduates.

“If I’d gone to a more conventional school, I don’t know if this entrepreneurial urge of mine could have taken root and flowered,” Worthington says.

Entrepreneurial urges are always taking root at New College. Tuchman helped develop Caribu, which has been such a huge hit that it was named an Apple “Best of 2020” app, made Fast Company’s list of “World-Changing Ideas” in 2019, was one of TIME Magazine’s “Best Inventions 2019,” and was singled out as one of the “Top Ten EdTech Companies to Watch” in Forbes.

“The thing that New College teaches you is to really advocate for yourself, to think about your college career with a holistic approach, and to take risks,” Tuchman says. “I wouldn’t have had that agency elsewhere. I wouldn’t have taken as much ownership of my education elsewhere.”

Through her work, Tuchman is teaching the next generation of students to think and learn. And it was her time at New College (before she went on to Harvard) that laid the foundation for her own exceptional growth of the mind.

Recent alumna and self-starter Erin Crobons opened Energize Dance Studio in Sarasota in September, shortly after graduating and in the middle of a pandemic.

“I love New College for the very reason that I had the flexibility to study two completely different subjects: psychology and math. I used my math knowledge to understand the financial side of opening a business, and the psychology knowledge to better communicate with customers and dancers,” Crobons says. “I don’t think I would have gotten that foundation elsewhere.”

Crobons, Tuchman, Worthington, Colón-Alfonso and numerous other New College students have used their critical-thinking skills to thrive even in the most uncertain of economic times.

New College instilled in them resilience, resourcefulness and an ability to think through any challenge. I believe this is the magic of New College. And I know our alumni agree.

Dr. Donal O’Shea is president of New College of Florida.

Photos: Norm Worthington, Maxeme Tuchman

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