Taft: more than a president’s great-grandson

Nathan Taft ’95 SOM ’04, was not the type of kid who sold lemonade on the corner to make some extra spending money.

Now president of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society, Taft, a history major, said he never thought he would be interested in business. He held numerous Yale-related jobs after graduation, including spending two years at Yale in China — a program meant to strengthen relations between China and the United States — and two more as an admissions officer.

Taft’s interest in the corporate world bloomed after he heard Bruce Alexander, vice president and director of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, speak at an alumni event. Since then, the years he as spent in the Elm City as a student, employee and resident have brought his new-found ambition into focus.

“Yes, New Haven has its challenges, but it also has so much going for it,” Taft said. “There’s an amazing potential.”

It was when Taft worked as an admissions officer that he began to realize the need for change in New Haven. Taft traveled around the country to educate perspective students and their families about Yale, but it was Taft who benefited most from these experiences.

“I was frankly shocked about what people were saying about the city, and annoyed a little bit,” Taft said.

Shortly thereafter, Taft went to work for the Office of New Haven and State Affairs with the hope of changing New Haven’s poor reputation.

“I wanted to be involved with an office that was trying to change it,” Taft said.

During his time at the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, Taft was introduced to the newly-formed YES for the first time. YES was founded by two undergraduates, Sean Glass ’03 and Miles Lasater ’01, in 1999.

“This became one of my projects,” Taft said. He began to serve as a liaison between the Office of New Haven and State Affairs and YES.

Taft said the organization’s goal is to help Yale entrepreneurs connect with each other and enact their ideas through education, networking and inspiration.

“YES’s mission is to focus on the intellectual capital at Yale — and really to look at ways that people can start things,” Taft said.

Because of his experience at the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, Taft decided to shift his focus from medical school applications and instead applied to the Yale School of Management.

Although Taft had enjoyed volunteering in the emergency room of Yale-New Haven Hospital and being a peer health educator for Yale University Health Services, he said his work at the Office of New Haven and State Affairs convinced him to dedicate his life to public service. To Taft, the School of Management seemed like the best road to reach that goal.

“It was a really exciting decision,” Taft said.

Shortly after he made this choice, Taft faced another momentous decision. The YES Board of Directors, which included Glass and Lasater, thought it should create a full-time director for the group and asked Taft if he wanted the job.

But once he knew he wanted to return to school, the Board asked if he would serve as the organization’s president. Taft is the first graduate student to serve in this capacity.

“We’re in the midst of a transition,” Taft said. Departing from its original roots as a student organization, Taft said he has been trying “to make YES a fully functioning highly visible umbrella organization.”

Taft said one reason he believes the board selected him was that he could serve as a link between people from all of the different schools on campus.

“[We are] really making [YES] an accessible organization for students all around the campus,” Taft said.

Amy Jain ’04, YES’s vice president of external affairs and strategic adviser to the president, said she was pleased with the new direction the organization was pursuing.

“Nathan has been a wonderful addition to YES,” Jain said.

Jain said Taft has been able to reach the organization’s goal of expanding the organization to reach other members of the Yale community.

“He’s gotten a lot of SOM students involved,” Jain said.

But Taft said he has bigger plans for YES. In addition to increasing YES’s influence within the Yale community in New Haven, he said he hopes to broaden the organization’s use of Yale’s rich alumni network to help young entrepreneurs at Yale get started.

Currently, alumni serve as mentors for students participating in the organization’s annual Y50K competition, in which YES grants over $100,000 in cash and services each year to both a for-profit business and a social entrepreneurship business to help them get started.

“We’re trying to formalize the mentorship program,” Taft said. On an even larger scale, Taft said he is hoping to establish YES chapters in major cities throughout America to provide Yale alumni with both education and resources.

“We’re looking to have a YES Boston event,” said Taft.

In the past, YES held a networking session in California’s Silicon Valley that was attended by entrepreneurs from various universities — including Yale, Harvard and Stanford.

But Taft’s big plans reach beyond his dreams for YES. While he said he sees himself working in the private sector initially, his long-term plan includes a role in the public sector.

Taft, who is the great-great-grandson of former President William Howard Taft, said that while his parents are not elected officials, his ancestry has played a role in shaping his own ambitions.

“It’s been so much ingrained in my thinking that public service is important,” Taft said. “It’s very much in my family.”

In taking his passion for the city a step further, he said he hopes to make his way into a political office someday.

“It would be amazing to try to run a city one day,” said Taft. “I want to try and give back — In government, you have a huge opportunity to give back.”

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