Entrepreneurship has become a buzzword at business schools these days, but only some schools are truly active in this endeavor.
The Warrington College of Business Administration, led by its Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI), is one of the select few that truly embrace and are passionate about entrepreneurship. CEI has launched some of the nation’s most dynamic entrepreneurial initiatives this past year, and its impact is genuinely being felt here in Gainesville and around the world.
An often overlooked group of potential entrepreneurs are disabled military veterans. A 2011 study from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy found that veterans are 45 percent more likely to start their own businesses than those with no active-duty military experience.
As a way to pay tribute to these heroes for their exemplary military service, CEI offers the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP). VEP is a three-phase program that not only gives practical training on how to build and maintain ventures, but provides a built-in support structure to help these veterans successfully apply what they’ve learned. The program is offered free of charge to qualified veterans.
“Veterans struggle both in dealing with their disability and in transitioning to civilian life,” said Dr. Michael Morris, the George and Lisa Etheridge Professor of Entrepreneurship and VEP Director. “We hope to help disabled veterans create their own futures, their own jobs, their own wealth through venture creation.”
The highlight of the program was an eight-day “boot camp” where more than 30 distinguished and disabled veterans gathered at Warrington for workshops with faculty, guest entrepreneurs and business experts. Veterans were exposed to aspects of opportunity assessment, business models, marketing, accounting, and legal issues among other important topics.
What differentiates the VEP is the level of support given to veterans once they complete the “boot camp.” Veterans receive six months of mentorship from VEP entrepreneurs and business experts to help overcome early obstacles and keep their ventures on track.
The level of entrepreneurial activity in and around UF has increased dramatically in recent years. So CEI presented a simple challenge: What’s Your Big Idea?
The result was the UF Big Idea Business Plan Competition which attracted a field of more than 140 entrants vying for $40,000 in prize money.
“The Big Idea Competition is an important element in our university-wide emphasis on entrepreneurship at the University of Florida,” Dr. Morris said. “With more than 140 entries, it is move evidence that UF is a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity. While the competition is, at its core, an educational activity, I believe it will help foster a lot of startups, job creation and economic growth.”
The winning idea came from engineering students Daniel Blood, Rob Damitz and Erica Gonzaga, who developed a portable water purification device that uses ultraviolet light to sterilize water. Although the product would be popular with hiking and camping enthusiasts, the team hopes its primary use will be to help people in developing nations and victims of natural disasters. According to water.org, approximately 780 million people globally lack access to clean drinking water.
One of the great advantages for Warrington professors is the amount of entrepreneurial collaboration taking place at the College.
But CEI wanted to expand that benefit to faculty throughout UF. The Center’s innovation was the Entrepreneurship Faculty Fellows, a program aimed at supporting entrepreneurial-minded faculty from all disciplines and academic areas. The program was officially launched in Fall 2013, and the inaugural class of 13 Fellows was appointed in March.
As a Fellow, a faculty member can access financial support for an entrepreneurial initiative, attend monthly informal dialogs, utilize CEI resources and become part of a network of faculty and others who are doing innovative, risk-taking and proactive activities. In addition, Fellows are required to complete a project that connects entrepreneurship with their home discipline.
The ultimate goal is to have these faculty members infuse entrepreneurial principles into their teaching, research and service activities, in the process spurring a new breed of innovative students from multiple disciplines.
CEI’s impact has certainly been felt at Warrington, UF and the local and state business communities, but the Center’s aspiration to enhance its global reach has always endured.
CEI’s Entrepreneurship & Empowerment in South Africa program (EESA) addresses that desire. For six weeks in the summer, students from UF and other universities visit historically disadvantaged entrepreneurs outside of Cape Town and, in consulting groups, assist them with their ventures. Students complete multiple projects including developing business and marketing plans, creating bookkeeping systems, improving operations and renegotiating contracts.
The need for these students to assist these entrepreneurs is substantial. These entrepreneurs dealt with a history of apartheid, limited education and were not allowed the opportunities or resources to be active participants in South Africa’s economic growth.
“I came to Warrington and UF wanting to make a difference, and this was beyond any expectation I could possibly have,” said Chana Kreuter (MSE ’13), who participated in EESA last year. “In South Africa we get to take everything we’ve learned at Warrington and apply it and really see the fruits of our labor.”
CEI’s spirit and desire to share the benefits of entrepreneurship may be most evident in its Experiential Classroom, where the Center welcomes faculty from around the world for a three-day clinic about effectively teaching entrepreneurship in the classroom.
The Experiential Classroom was launched in 2000 to address the growing need for high-quality teachers in the field of entrepreneurship, and it has become one of the most successful workshops of its kind. More than 900 faculty members from around the world have attended the Experiential Classroom since its inception.
Among the many reasons why the Experiential Classroom is so successful is that it caters to faculty of all levels and experience. The clinic includes 30 distinct topical sections and features as presenters more than 20 leading entrepreneurship educators from around the world. Participants range from full-time faculty members seeking to enhance or retool their current entrepreneurship courses to doctoral students and new faculty just beginning to teach the discipline.
CEI’s international scope further increased in May when Dr. Morris and colleagues from Syracuse University and Texas Christian University visited St. Petersburg, Russia to direct the Dynamic Entrepreneurship Classroom.
The Dynamic Entrepreneurship Classroom is a high-intensity, three-day exposure to the best practices in entrepreneurship education for university faculty from across the Russian Republic.
Dr. Morris said entrepreneurship education has no history in Russia, but the country is catching up quickly. He said the number of business schools is on the rise as well as entrepreneurship courses and experiments like start-up incubators, entrepreneurial networks and business plan competitions. Therefore, providing Russia’s entrepreneurship educators with the most successful tools and teaching methods are paramount.
Thirty-three Russian faculty members were scheduled to participate, and be exposed to lectures, discussions, experiential exercises and classroom demonstrations introducing leading-edge teaching methods, new perspectives on the core content of entrepreneurship, approaches for building a great entrepreneurship program and novel approaches to experiential teaching and learning.