Five years after it began, the Lunch with a Leader program, hosted by Lewis & Clark’s Entrepreneurship Club, shows no signs of losing momentum. The program was founded to assist LC students in establishing personal connections with potential role models. Each Lunch with a Leader event consists of a round-table discussion between up to 20 students and a successful community figure. They are not always entrepreneurs or business figures: Past leaders include artists, politicians, activists, scientists and the heads of nonprofit organizations. Figures such as cancer researcher Brian Druker, possibly Oregon’s best-known scientist, and Portland’s most prominent Black business leader, Rukaiyah Adams, have been invited to speak.
Lunch with a Leader was co-founded by the Bates Center for Entrepreneurship’s Associate Director Chrys Hutchings and Associate Director of Operations Catarina Hunter.
“We have no shortage of people who want to speak to our students,” Hutchings said via email.
In total, Hutchings has held 60 Lunch with a Leader events, approximately five per semester. While some of the guests are people she or other LC faculty members know, Hutchings finds most of them online (she sarcastically refers to it as “stalking” them) and then invites them to speak to LC students.
Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, Lunch with a Leader took place in person, with a hot lunch being provided for free by Hutchings and Hunter. Entrepreneurship Club Co-President Ramez Attia ’21 preferred this setup.
“You talked about their story and asked questions,” Attia said. “It was not really a lecture, but a conversation.”
This dynamic has disappeared, Attia said, now that the events are held on Zoom. However, there are advantages to the remote format, chiefly being that speakers can come from all over the world.
“It’s been more flexible during the pandemic,” Attia said.
The club has also taken this time to work on improving the diversity of the guests they invite. Over the past year, Hutchings says, the number of speakers who are white and male has declined from 32% to just 17%.
“Entrepreneurship funding has a record of excluding underrepresented populations (so) there is a lot of ground to make up,” Hutchings said.
She noted that despite the lack of funding, many successful entrepreneurs in America are immigrants.
Everybody who has organized Lunch with a Leader agrees that the guests impart valuable knowledge. Hutchings recounts stories of speakers breaking down in tears when they described past setbacks and how they overcame them. Entrepreneurship Club Co-President Matthew Brown ’21 said that no two stories from leaders are the same.
“They’re telling their story not to say, ‘Hey, follow my footsteps,’ but to show that when you get to a similar crossroads that they did, you go with your gut,” Brown said.
According to Hutchings, students who associate entrepreneurship with money-making and ruthless capitalism are pleasantly surprised to find that the Lunch with a Leader series is nothing like what they expect. Students often come out of the lunches startled at how friendly and accessible the leaders are.
“(Entrepreneurship) is about making an impact and being an advocate for an idea or a group of people,” Hutchings said.
Attendance at a Lunch with a Leader event is capped at 20 students, even on Zoom.
“It is small enough for students to establish a personal connection, yet large enough that they do not feel forced to engage,” Hutchings said.
Students can contact the Bates Center to sign up for an upcoming Lunch with a Leader event or add their name to a sign-up sheet published on the third floor of J.R. Howard Hall. Upcoming Lunch with a Leader speakers include New Zealand soccer player and shoe designer Tim Brown, plastic recycling innovator Heidi Kujawa and the mayor of Gresham, Travis Stovall, who is the first Black mayor of a city in the Portland metropolitan area.