Grant Hensel '15 reflects on his experience this past summer as an Emerging Founder with Praxis.
"Entrepreneurship is about getting rich, and the liberal arts don't teach the industry-specific material startup founders need to be successful."
This is the cultural script implicit in our society, but my experience, first at Wheaton, and now as an Emerging Founder with Praxis, have shown me the opposite. It has taught me that the mainstream is wrong both about the goal and the process of entrepreneurship.
I have been starting companies since middle school. To paraphrase Chariots of Fire, "when I create businesses, I feel God's pleasure," and it has been that way as long as I can remember.
Going to Wheaton was a natural outgrowth of that desire. I knew developing the skills to be an entrepreneur was important, but it was even more critical to form a worldview, a conception of true human flourishing, and a sense for how business can bear witness to the Kingdom of God.
After Wheaton I founded a company called Nonprofit Megaphone, which helps nonprofits utilize a tool called the Google Ad Grant. After hearing the need repeatedly from our clients, we then created the RoundUp App. This app is a fundraising tool that allows individuals to automatically round up and donate the change from their credit or debit card purchases to a nonprofit they care about.
This summer we participated in the Praxis Emerging Founders program, which is designed for individuals working full time on a redemptive entrepreneurial project. During the Emerging Founders kickoff week in New York City, our cohort was introduced to the concept of redemptive entrepreneurship: that is, "joining God in creative restoration through sacrifice, by way of venture-building and innovation."
Where traditional ventures are often somewhere on the spectrum between exploitive and ethical, we believe Jesus calls us to be redemptive in all facets of our work: operations, strategy, and leadership. This model put into practice—and contextualized to entrepreneurship—so much of what I had learned at Wheaton.
I will never forget the fourth day of the kickoff week. One of the mentors I became close with shared how he was drawing on the wealth of academic research into what behaviors help marriages survive and thrive. This mentor had launched an app called Lasting, designed to help spouses apply the research practically and maintain healthier marriages. I immediately saw the connection to our work, as there is a similar body of academic research into charitable giving. With an approach honed from classes at Wheaton, I downloaded dozens of articles from JSTOR and synthesized them into takeaways that we rolled into the very next iteration of our product.
The mentor who guided me to this realization was himself a Wheaton alumnus.
This example gets to the heart of why the Christian liberal arts are so important for entrepreneurs.
First, instead of studying a single field like "Finance" or "Digital Marketing," Wheaton grads are versed in a wide variety of disciplines that drill into the bedrock of human experience. Innovations do not come from understanding the latest trends in pay-per-click advertising, they come from knowing at a deep level what makes human beings tick, seen through the lenses of psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, theology, and other disciplines. The liberal arts introduced me to the broad range of human knowledge, provided an understanding of how we can approach learning itself, and supplied the tools to dig deeper into each field as needed. Wheaton provided dynamic readiness, capable of adapting to changing times and needs, rather than the static readiness taught by only studying a functional area such as "Accounting."
Second, and more importantly, Wheaton taught us what is worth building using the intellectual "power tools" that the liberal arts provides. When my mentor looked out at the world and decided what to create, he chose to help struggling marriages and save families and children from the agonies of divorce. When we looked out into the culture, we decided to create a platform to make fundraising and giving easier, to provide organizations and ministries with the resource they need to care for the least of these and for our world. To be sure, this is not the most financially lucrative path that we could have taken. But we hope it will bear witness, at least in a small way, to the love that Jesus has for every tongue, tribe, and nation, and especially for those who are forgotten or mistreated by our mainstream economy.
In short? I would argue that redemptive entrepreneurship and the Christian liberal arts are a match made in heaven.