Why university entrepreneurship centers matter

Coworks founder and CEO DeShawn Brown is an embodied testimonial to the power of university entrepreneurship centers.

It was during his time at NC State University that he became part of the NC State Entrepreneurial Clinic. And he credits that experience to helping him launch not one but two companies.

DeShawn-Brown_headshot_2023_02 resized"What really left an impact for me as a student was the interdisciplinary piece," Brown explained during a recent panel discussion about Entrepreneurship Program Management. "Being able to meet folks in the design school and the College of Management. I was an engineer, so I knew the other engineers, but it wasn't until we got connected with some of those other folks that really helped inspire me to go into entrepreneurship and start building companies."

Entrepreneurship centers at universities and colleges are vital in fostering innovation and creativity among students. By providing a platform for young minds to explore and grow their entrepreneurial skills, these centers play a critical role in shaping the future of our economy and society.

How do university entrepreneurship centers benefit students?

It may seem like there is an obvious answer: to become entrepreneurs. To start a company. To get rich. But there are deeper and more varied nuances to that question, which Lewis Sheets, Director of the Chaifetz Center for Entrepreneurship at St. Louis University, shared during the panel discussion.

lewis-sheats-960"It's not about startups for us," he said. "If we build a really good program, we will have new ventures launch,  that's just given. It's more about unlocking careers of college students. What are they going to do with its entrepreneurial mindset? Are they going to be a more valuable employee at Boeing? Are they going to go launch their own Coworks?

"It's also like a happiness factor. Are we creating an environment for students to really enjoy this experience? Because entrepreneurship is not easy. There's nothing easy about it, but it's sure as heck is worth it.

"Good directors of entrepreneurship programs should be good entrepreneurs, and good entrepreneurs are constantly in customer discovery — constantly in iteration. If you stand something up today, and you don't change, then you're going to be outdated six months from now. You have to be iterating, based on what the needs are, who the students are, and the ecosystem, if you're going to be relevant, and actually add value."

How do entrepreneurship centers benefit the community?

Universities are often important players in the surrounding town and cities, from sports to culture to employment. But startups are often locally influenced, and these incubation programs can foster true solutions that will serve the immediate community. 

sara bennett headshotFor Sara Bennett, Director of Central Community College Entrepreneurship Center in Grand Island, Nebraska, the private sector partners and community agencies were integral in growing the program at the college.

"We're looking at it from a holistic perspective, because no one entity was like, 'We're going to tackle entrepreneurship!' It's been an important conversation all over our community.

So when we were establishing the Center in Grand Island, several of the community leaders wanted the college can play a role in accelerating that entrepreneurial mindset and and working with students to see entrepreneurship and Innovation at an earlier stage in their careers.

That became a metric of our success: how are we shifting that mindset in our community?"

University entrepreneurship centers offer more than college credit

Wrapping up the panel discussion, Brown shared more about his own journey into entrepreneurship: discovering what was possible.

"I just happened to just kind of throw a dart and pick a class: Introduction to Entrepreneurship for my freshman year. And it really changed the course of my whole life.

Honestly, I did not grow up thinking I was going to be a startup founder or entrepreneur — I just  didn't know that  was a path that was reasonable. And I think that proves the importance of these kind of spaces. It exposed me to startups and what that word meant. I actually came in as a mechanical engineer quickly switched to computer science. I had an aha moment where I realized if I can code, then I can build a company."

These conversations and more can be found in the full recording of our panel discussion: Managing the 3 Rs' of Entrepreneurship Centers: Rooms, Resources, and Relationships. Watch that here.


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