Not every would-be entrepreneur is in an encouraging community. Here’s the discouraging experience of one Eph emailer who graduated in the last decade (name and class year concealed):

I see great irony in the Alumni Review celebrating those who move back to Williamstown to start businesses, because the College was certainly hostile to current students who try to start them.

Over the summer before sophomore year, one of my friends and I hit on an idea for a web service in the online photo space. A friend of his mother expressed interest and asked us to draw up a business plan, and another friend put us in touch with a coding firm in Eastern Europe. Back at Williams, as we put the finishing touches on our business plan, we proactively notified the dean’s office about our plans and asked whether approval was required by the college regulations for “student businesses.”

Big mistake. We were told that it reaction was to confirm that they considered it a student business even though it wasn’t primarily aimed at selling anything to students — the fact that Williams students could be among the users was enough. And then, we were directly discouraged from proceeding. In repeated meetings, we were questioned about our grades, our course load, our other extracurricular activities, and even our social lives. Message: you don’t have time for this. Then we were told that we couldn’t use college Internet resources — not just for hosting (which we had never planned to do), but for design, maintenance, even communicating with the overseas developers. The process of getting permission dragged on for months.

In the end, we did get approval, but my friend had made the varsity [] team, I started a new relationship, and we put the project on the back burner. . . .

I don’t remember many people trying to do something like this when I was at Williams. Sure, there were people earning extra cash as DJs, doing Stop-and-Shop deliveries, and selling spring-break t-shirts. But nothing larger. Of course, starting anything during the middle of an academic year is tough enough — even without the red tape. Anyone have other experiences with the College’s very discretionary “Student Business Regulations“? Here are the key portions: 

The following regulations govern student businesses at Williams:

1. No Williams student may engage in the sale and distribution of goods or services to or solicitation of subscriptions from Williams students without the approval in writing from the office of the Dean of the College.

2. The word “College” must not appear as part of a business name on any advertising letterhead, piece of equipment, or product.

4. A financial report must be submitted to the Dean’s Office at the end of each year’s operation.

5. Business permits must be renewed annually at the Dean’s Office.

8. Outside companies or organizations wishing to operate on the campus must do so through a recognized student business.

10. The office of the Dean of the College and the Committee on Undergraduate Life may review at any time the operation of any student business and may revoke its permission to operate on the campus.

The only standards for what may be approved or rejected appear to be in a single paragraph in the student handbook:

Williams College permits student businesses on campus if they provide a useful and desirable service and if the student management is competent and responsible…. In deciding whether to permit a student business, the College also must consider both the demands of its tax-exempt status and the need to maintain a harmonious relationship with the Williamstown community.

Planning to offer guided “Bachelorette” tours during leaf season? Sure, it’s a useful and desirable service with great revenue opportunities But good luck figuring out whether your business idea is compatible with “a harmonious relationship with the Williamstown community,” even before you discover whether you can use the term “bachelorette” without running afoul of ABC.

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