Entrepreneurship can mean lots of different things to lots of different people. When you ask a group of students to name an entrepreneur, they often rattle off the list of usual suspects – Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg – giants of innovation in world of information technology and software. The mental image is often of the lone genius, whose crazy ideas come as if in a mystic dream, the ideas flowing out fully formed and ready for funding by top-flight venture capitalists. This is, of course, mythology. You might be a genius on your own but you will more than likely never be an entrepreneur on your own. We tell our students that entrepreneurship is a team sport, one that thrives best with diverse teams built to tackle complex problems. We also tell them that anyone can learn and apply the tools of entrepreneurship, and they can be applied to literally any type of business in any industry, and for commercial as well as social gain. Entrepreneurship is a mindset, a way of looking at the world and finding solutions where others might see the problem and stop.
This has been a year of change in the Minor in Entrepreneurship. Professor John Akin was pulled out of retirement and back into action as the interim Director in the summer of 2014 and retired once more this past summer. After serving on the Working Group for the Minor the last seven years and as an Entrepreneur in Residence for the past two years, I was appointed Executive Director of the Minor on July 1. As a UNC graduate with a degree in Economics, it is a slightly surreal experience to be in Gardner Hall after 20 plus years in business with the opportunity to lead such a dynamic and exciting program with such talented peers and amazing students. Our job is to provide the students an exceptional learning experience in and out of the classroom and leave our program ready to solve real-world problems in companies and organizations of all types.
The Minor has been and will continue to be an integral part of UNC’s journey toward becoming a more innovative and entrepreneurial university. Over the past ten years, we have graduated over 600 students. This year we admitted our largest class to date, with 146 students in ECON 325, the first course for students after they are admitted to the Minor. The opportunity to expand the reach of the Minor in new ways is tremendous, and we are engaged with many campus departments and schools in a variety of ways, from offering advice on teaching methods to sponsoring new courses within departments.
There are several areas we are focusing on as we move from “startup” phase into “growth phase.” The first is taking a hard look at our curriculum and making sure we continue what has made us successful – balancing theory with practice, mixing academic instructors with practitioners. We have made some changes to the required courses in the Minor that require us to harmonize the content between and among various classes in the Minor. We are also taking a look at diversity in the Minor. Research is clear that diverse teams are better at solving complex problems like those found in entrepreneurial endeavors. We want to make sure the Minor looks like the diverse population of UNC, across all aspects of diversity, and are considering new ways to reach underrepresented populations. One of the keys to this is making sure our instructional faculty reflects this diversity, and several of our new hires have brought new backgrounds and experiences to the program: • Jan Davis, a venture capitalist from the Research Triangle area, is a new financial Entrepreneur in Residence; • Jed Simmons, a digital developer for You Tube and Google, is a new-media Entrepreneur in Residence; • Bernard Bell, a media executive from BET (formerly the Black Entertainment Television channel), is a communications Entrepreneur in Residence Other strategic initiatives are focused on improving our reach into the UNC network to create more and better opportunities for experiential learning and continuing efforts to incorporate practitioners and entrepreneurs in the classroom. There are many other new and exciting ideas floating around the Minor, and the John S. Akin Entrepreneurship Suite is a busy place, with students visiting our instructors and EIRs for advice on projects in and out of the classroom and faculty and staff from all over campus looking for ways to partner with the Minor. Our goal is for UNC to be the number one university for entrepreneurship. If we focus on creating an exceptional experience for our students, utilizing all the resources available to us at UNC, I have no doubts we will achieve that goal in the not too distant future.
-Charles Merritt Executive Director of the Minor in Entrepreneurship
For current news and happenings from the Minor, please visit our website (http://www.unceminor. org/) or follow the Minor in Entrepreneurship on Twitter (@ unceminor), Facebook and join our group on LinkedIn.