News

Forum Continues Emphasis on Helping Students Explore Entrepreneurship

by Bill Giduz
Tony WagnerTony Wagner will offer the keynote address at the September 12 event.

Davidson College is focusing this year on entrepreneurship as a path students can follow toward successful post-graduate careers. It is one of the college's new "Transition to Impact" programs, which help students move from campus to a meaningful life after graduation.

Programming for entrepreneurship began over the summer with a new "Entrepreneurial Internship Program" which placed 11 students in full-time, paid internships with start-up companies, innovation-oriented companies, and entrepreneurial social ventures.

A formal "Entrepreneurship Initiative" will be launched this school year with a series of events on September 12, and the presence on campus this year of a full-time "Entrepreneur in Residence" -Mark Williams '86. The college will also continue to award its Avinger Scholarship for accomplished student entrepreneurs, and will develop programs in social innovation through the Center for Civic Engagement.

President Carol Quillen said that, like all entrepreneurial efforts, the initiative at Davidson will evolve as it develops. "As we move forward, we will continue to evaluate how this initiative can help Davidson cultivate creativity, courage, resilience, and analytical acuity. We will test strategies and ideas, and adapt as we proceed."

The events on September 12 will feature Tony Wagner, author of the book Creating Innovators. Wagner is the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard University. He will lead a workshop in "Exploring & Designing Entrepreneurship at Davidson" beginning at 3:30 p.m. in the Alvarez College Union Smith 900 Room.

At 7 p.m. that evening, Wagner will deliver a keynote address on "Creating Innovators: Re-Imagining Higher Education." He will address the idea that that in a world where knowledge has become a free commodity, only the ability to innovate and solve problems creatively can guarantee a prosperous future for an individual or group.

The evening will conclude from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. with a dessert reception and showcase of ventures created by student entrepreneurs.

Mark Williams '86 will bring a strong record of entrepreneurship into the new "Entrepreneurship in Residence" position.

After graduating from Davidson, Williams earned a Ph.D. in neuroanatomy from Yale. In February 2006 he took the leap to an entrepreneurial life and founded Modality, Inc. That company worked on designing and implementing mobile educational technology, and created about 150 mobile applications for educational use at all levels. Modality was acquired by Epocrates in 2010, and Williams served it as "Head of User Experience." He is now building a new technology venture.

At Davidson Williams will serve as an adviser on the Entrepreneurship Initiative, develop and implement the Davidson College Venture Fund, and support the development of strategic health and entrepreneurial partners. For an article on Williams, visit the Ready Founder website.

This summer's founding group of Davidson student Entrepreneurial Interns were hosted at venture-oriented companies around the globe by Davidson alumni and friends. Funding for the internships came from the employer, and provided compensation to cover basic living expenses.

Many interns worked close to home in Charlotte, including Richard Yan '15 who was with the firm Technekes. "It was a wonderful experience!" said Yan. "I helped the company develop a new business model for its online data platform, and worked on checking and updating customer records. I particularly enjoyed the daily meetings where they talked about what they did yesterday, and planned ahead for today and tomorrow."

Yan, a double major in math and economics with a career interest in investment banking, said the 10-week summer experience is helping him with selection of his courses. "I see that I need to take accounting and some more math," he said.

Sam Echikson '14 learned about the growing field of "big data" analysis as an intern with Tresata in Charlotte. The company works with corporate clients to analyze business data. Echikson, a studio art major and computer science minor, worked mainly with Tresata's work to presents results of data analysis in human-readable form as charts and graphs. "The field of big data-terabytes of information-has been emerging quickly in the past decade, and there's a lot to learn about it," said Echikson. "I learned that I really need to work on my computer skills, and I appreciate the fact that they were paying me to do that!"

The internship also gave Echikson a foot in the door that may lead to full-time employment. "Tresata already has five Davidson graduates!" Echikson said hopefully.

Katie Wells '14 had the most far-flung entrepreneurial internship, working with the Amani Institute in Kenya, a center for social entrepreneurship education founded by Roshan Paul '02. Wells said, "We like to call it "entrepreneurship with morals." The company wasn't aimed primarily at bottom line profit, but at how it could help the country long-term through a new approach to higher education."

Wells took some of the classes at the institute, ran a marketing campaign promoting the curriculum, and helped launch an "African Youth Development Fund" to allow young Ghanaian youth to attend educational seminars.

"A lot of older students saw Amani as a way to change their careers and do something more meaningful in their lives," said Wells. "Seeing so many people make a change at age 30 or 40 made me want to start now, rather than waiting until later."

Another new initiative this summer was the college's establishment of the "Davidson College Venture Lab" in Charlotte. Working in Packard Place, a building designed to facilitate entrepreneurs in developing their ideas, allowed Joe Morrison '14 and Tori Mayernick '14 to concentrate full-time on entrepreneurial ideas they had already launched.

They also enjoyed the support and advice they got from other entrepreneurs in the building. Mayernick worked on "Hives for Lives," a social non-profit venture founded in 2005 to raise money for cancer research through sales of honey. Morrison worked on PaxBackpacks.Com, his effort to construct and sell high-quality backpacks for both personal profit and the benefit of school children living in poverty.

Mayernick said, "This summer was a test to see if I would enjoy full-time entrepreneurship, and the answer is ‘Yes!' I loved it. It was really a dream summer. There are very few people our age who can say they got a grant and office space and help to work on their own personal project, reporting only to yourself. This was the safest way to take one of the biggest risks you might take in a lifetime."