NC State ranked 10th in the country for undergraduate entrepreneurship and 21st in the country for graduate programs this year.
“In the Poole College of Management and across the university, we are committed to providing a stimulating environment for professionals, startups and entrepreneurs to promote collaboration and drive innovation,” said Dr. Frank Buckless, Stephen P. Zelnak Jr. Dean of the Poole College of Management. “From the Entrepreneurship Garage to the Wolfpack Investor Network to the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund, NC State supports entrepreneurs and plays a critical role in stimulating North Carolina’s economy.”
The Princeton Review collects upwards of 60 self-reported data points from the university, said Lewis Sheats, assistant vice provost for entrepreneurship and executive director of the Entrepreneurship Clinic. The Princeton Review receives a full perspective as to what entrepreneurship on campus looks like from both the student and faculty perspective, as well as how both groups engage in off-campus events such as competitions, Sheats said.
The rankings serve as validation of the hard work taking place across campus, he said.
“One thing we don’t want people to confuse is that we’re teaching or building toward the rankings,” Sheats said. “Anytime we get in the rankings, it’s validation that what we’re doing works and resonates with other people.”
“If it helps a student looking at NC State realize that this is a place that can help them achieve their goals, that’s a good thing.”
Entrepreneurship across campus: bringing everyone to the table
NC State has lengthy history in entrepreneurship from courses and programs to notable start-ups such as SAS, which had its start at NC State. At the same time, Tom Miller, senior vice provost for Academic Outreach and Entrepreneurship, said outsiders to the university saw many efforts across campus related to entrepreneurship, but couldn’t necessarily connect the dots.
“From the outside, people would see entrepreneurship at NC state through one channel, but it did not present the whole picture,” he said. “When you add it all up, it’s amazing, but at the time nobody really knew.”
Over the past several years the university made a conscious effort to connect efforts across campus and support those efforts at the university level, Sheats said.
Rather than changing the reporting system, instead Miller, Sheats and others leading the charge opted for an Alliance Model. Miller likens it to a trade organization, where various groups, programs and initiatives across campus fall under an umbrella of entrepreneurship, Miller said. University-wide resources can then support all of these various members. Today, a common website houses news and information about entrepreneurship efforts across campus, providing both the campus community and outsiders with a broad picture of entrepreneurship efforts, Miller said.
“We’re all on the same team, but we have different focuses in terms of disciplines,” Sheats said. “The one thing that pulls us together is entrepreneurship.”
Unique to NC State
Most universities across the country have an entrepreneurship program today, but most stem out of either the business school or the engineering program, Sheats said. NC State stands out by connecting the business side and the technical side of entrepreneurship, he said.
One important component is Poole College of Management’s Entrepreneurship Clinic, housed in HQ Raleigh — one of the Triangle’s largest co-working hubs. The clinic integrates research, teaching and real world experience, and gives faculty, students, entrepreneurs and service providers a place to gather to teach, learn and build the next generation of businesses in Raleigh.
“Working with outside companies in the clinic provide a unique experience,” Sheats said. “Many have consulting-type classes, but we add the academic work to the mix.”
“At the same time, we also do research in the clinic and that becomes practical knowledge that we can share with the companies we work with.”
NC State also stands out with its alliance approach.
“We want entrepreneurship to live in every college across NC State,” Sheats said. “We want that to survive and thrive inside of the colleges, but we also want to be able to connect all those pieces.”
Sheats himself is a faculty member within Poole College, but teaches in the College of Agriculture and Life Science to expose students there to entrepreneurship, another example of NC State’s cross-campus pollination.
“It leads to faculty members communicating better across campus, and that leads to better collaboration,” he said.
Impact on Students
The unification of entrepreneurship efforts across campus has benefitted students from those who are just curious about entrepreneurship to those who are running a business already, even perhaps seeking funding. From entrepreneurship courses, programs and competitions to scholarly support programs, dozens of entrepreneurship touch points exist.
Jenkins MBA student Grace Williamson is an Entrepreneurship (HiTEC) Scholar, a joint venture managed by the Colleges of Management and Engineering, which teaches systematic and process-based approaches to launching and growing technology rich businesses.
As part of that program, she’s led teams of students interested in entrepreneurship and worked with companies that are seeking funding through the Wolfpack Investor Network.
“This program is so impactful, to have real, hands-on learning, especially as it pertains to entrepreneurship, and understanding what it takes to raise funds and get your business going,” Williamson said.
Williamson’s entrepreneurship experiences on campus don’t stop there. She’s a member of the Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) group on campus, which unites women across the university. And this year, she and a team of students were finalists in the Lulu eGames, NC State’s annual startup competition, awarding over $100k to NC State entrepreneurs.
It’s not unusual to find students from seemingly unrelated backgrounds or areas of study coming together to combine their skill sets in entrepreneurial efforts or competitions, Miller said.
The NC State Entrepreneurship Garage is one such example. This venture creation and prototyping space is specifically designed for student entrepreneurs. It serves as a hub for students across campus to come together and explore their entrepreneurial ideas and interests, and provides not only space but also skills workshops, staff mentors, speakers and more.
The Albright Entrepreneurs Village is another example, where student with an interest in entrepreneurship live and learn together, with opportunities to experience entrepreneurship on and off campus.
Sean Maina, a sophomore in the College of Engineering, is one Albright Village resident who has already pitched his own start-up ideas via entrepreneurship opportunities on campus. He started a venture with a friend during his freshman year, pitching the idea at Entrepalooza, NC State’s annual festival celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation, and then at Wolf Den, where the two received some start-up capital.
The access that the Albright Village has given Maina to professionals in the HQ Raleigh community has been a highlight for him. He’s also worked with people across campus that he might not have otherwise met simply through his degree program.
“It’s a network effect,” Maina said. “You sit down and start talking and you realize they’re entrepreneurial too and they have cool ideas.”
“I see it as an opportunity to really connect with other people and talk about entrepreneurship.”
In the end, students who start companies make up a small percentage of the campus population, yet those who may go on to other career paths and ventures still benefit from NC State’s focus on entrepreneurship, Miller said.
“The entrepreneurship mindset that students develop is really what we’re after,” he said. “Employers find it really valuable.”
“Students are able to communicate across the enterprise, and talk to people – I see entrepreneurship and leadership going together, hand-in-hand.”