The Whole Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurship is what to you?
Joe Popolo—If you’re an entrepreneur, a true entrepreneur, you are cutting the bridge behind you. And you’re going forward in pursuit of that problem. If that doesn’t work, you move to the next one. You’re a risk taker—someone willing to live with the consequences. I don’t know if there are statistics on what percentage of entrepreneurs fail, but it’s got to be a large number.
Jere Doyle—I think entrepreneurship is irrational. Because the rational person would say, “This could never be done. No way.”
So, you’re an optimist, Joe?
J.P. —Yes, I’ve been accused of being that before.
Is optimism, then, a prerequisite for success?
J.P. —Well, certainly to be successful as an entrepreneur you have to believe there’s a better way than the status quo. I don’t think you’d be successful as a pessimistic entrepreneur. To your earlier point, Jere, a rational person would say, “No, that’s too big a lift. I can go do something else.” I love a definition I heard many years ago: Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity with total disregard to current resources.
Joe, in an article published online on the Carroll School of Management website you note that one of your favorite quotes is “The reasonable man…
J.P. —Or woman.
…or woman, “…adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress relies on the unreasonable man.” Do you feel that progress necessarily casts aside ethics or some sort of moral imperative? Or is there a need to bring those two together?
J.P. —Well, I think the latter is clearly the case. That’s what makes Boston College unique in terms of its pursuit of entrepreneurship in the context of a Jesuit, Catholic university. BC understands that it’s not just about the transaction. That’s why I’m so excited to help support Jere’s work here at Boston College where a faith component is part of the entrepreneurship equation.
I think entrepreneurship—capitalism—without some sort of moral compass can be problematic.
JOE POPOLO ’89
Joe Popolo and Jere Doyle came to Cadigan Alumni Center for a conversation and photo session in May 2019.
What are the strengths that Boston College brings to the higher-ed space and in particular the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship?
J.P. —BC is unique. It’s a great academic institution in one of the greatest cities in the world. And when you layer on the Jesuit, Catholic experience that permeates the University, it really makes it a very, very special place. As for the Shea Center, I think entrepreneurship—capitalism—without some sort of moral compass can be problematic. And I think that’s, again, why it’s so exciting for us to support Jere, because here entrepreneurship is discussed and taught in the context of “what does this mean for the whole person and for the people around me, and for the greater good?”
Chris Popolo—I’d like to add to that. With everything that is going on in higher ed today, not all universities are serving their students as well as they could be. We’re pleased to support Boston College because it attends to the whole student.
Among their many philanthropic pursuits, Joe ’89 and Chris Popolo, P’20, ’23, have endowed the directorship of the Edmund H. Shea Jr. Center for Entrepreneurship. Says Chris, “Not all universities are serving their students as well as they could be. We’re pleased to support Boston College because it attends to the whole student.”
Jere, graduates are entering a job market where technologies and services are changing in the blink of an eye. How do you equip your students in the face of such impermanence?
J.D. —Well, I think what we’re trying to do is teach a mindset. And the mindset is to be curious, the mindset is to take risks. And we’re teaching how to poke holes in places, and then read the data—be analytical. Of course, there’s the nuts and bolts of it: how to start a business; how to set it up legally; how to market and get a product out there; how to hire a team; how to raise money, financing for startups. But it starts with the mindset. I think that’s ultimately our biggest goal.
Joe, what is it about Boston College that makes it a priority in your giving?
J.P. —Chris would say that it’s my irrational love of this college [laughs]. My father got his MBA here. My grandfather, after whom we named the Edward Connelly Football Scholarship, was accepted to Boston College in the 1920s but was not able to attend because he had to go out and get a job to support his family. So BC has always been part of my life. And then, of course, I had a great experience here, and we’re continuing the involvement by having two kids here. BC is a pretty central part of our giving. We’ve been very blessed. It’s great to be able to turn around and give back to the University that does so much for students, many of whom have to have significant financial help to come here.
Joe and Chris, how has becoming BC parents—first with Katherine “Kit” ’20 and now with Joseph III “Buck” ’23—added dimension to your experience of BC?
J.P. —Well, it’s interesting, the University was on the cusp of greatness when I was here—it was the Flutie era. And then over a short period of time the University rose up very quickly and has gotten to be so beautiful—but it has continued to rise in every objective, every standard. I’m not sure I would get in today, it’s gotten so competitive. Kit has had a great experience here. She was a Jenks Scholar and also a D1 athlete on the crew team. She’s going to be a Portico leader next year. She really jumped in up to her neck and got involved as much as she could. And she was part of the reason why Buck decided to come here.
C.P. —The only data points I have from BC back in the day are from Joe and his friends, and they tended to lean to the social aspects [laughs], but I’ve been really pleased with Kit’s experience academically, socially, and extracurricularly.
Could you say that the work the center does is born out of the University’s mission?
J.P. —Absolutely. If you think about how we’re going to make society better for the greatest number of people, I firmly believe that it’s through free markets and free people. I think the center perfectly complements the ultimate Jesuit mission, certainly, of being men and women for others. And that’s BC.
J.D. —Our mission at the Shea Center is not to have kids start companies—though some companies are started from the Shea Center, and that’s awesome. But most kids go through and don’t start companies. Many go work at startups. And that’s just as entrepreneurial.
Thank you, both.