Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

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Entrepreneurship Spotlight: University of North Carolina

Although his father is an entrepreneur, Chris Musick didn’t want to pigeonhole himself to any one career path while studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But a freshman seminar and an empty refrigerator changed his tune.

"We were in our room and we were out of food and figured there had to be a better way," Musick said.

Strapped with the knowledge from his business class, Musick and his roommate formulated an idea for CollegeGrocer.net, a service that allows students to order groceries online and have them delivered to their door.

They got some help from Ted Zoller, executive director of the UNC Center on Entrepreneurial Studies, who teaches the Carolina Launch program, which is open to all students who seek to start ventures. A pilot program was born soon after.

The experiment lasted throughout the spring semester and was a striking success. The effort won second place in the Carolina Challenge, a business plan contest with $25,500 in prize money. The idea also took home the contest’s People’s Choice Award.

Musick, who serves as chief financial officer and human resources director for the group, said one of his partners is spending the summer in Asia in search of investors. The group is currently in the process of filing papers to become a limited liability company.

Musick credited the idea’s quick fruition to the tutelage of experts both in the newly formed Carolina Entrepreneurial Initiative (CEI) and other segments of the business school.

"People over three are willing to give us resources and time," he said. "Without them I don’t know that we really would have gotten as far as we have."

CollegeGrocer.net is just one example of the entrepreneurial synergy on UNC’s campus.

"There’s been an increasing recognition that the primary vehicle to bring knowledge to market it through entrepreneurial efforts," said UNC’s Zoller. "This campus embraced entrepreneurship meaningfully in the early 90s, but the commitment has grown considerably in the past five years."

It’s a commitment that garnered a $3.5 million five-year grant from the Ewing
Marion Kauffman Foundation that the school parlayed quickly into the Carolina
Entrepreneurial Initiative. And organizations across the country are lining up to dole out hardware and praise.

In 2004, UNC was ranked the most entrepreneurial campus in the United States
by Forbes.com and The Princeton Review. CEI recently received honors at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s annual Entrepreneurial Excellence awards. Officials credit the program’s success to the firm base provided from all corners of campus.

"It’s a combination of support from the top of the organization right down through the faculty," said Jack Kasarda, director of CEI. "I think it’s a well-organized program."

Launched in the 2004-2005 academic year, the program has a multitude of aspects that stretch across academic disciplines. The first year saw the creation of an entrepreneurial minor, the Carolina Challenge, Kauffman Faculty Fellowships that provide one semester paid leave for faculty to pursue entrepreneurial research, a series of seminars featuring entrepreneurial experts, first year seminars to engage freshmen, like Musick, a launch program that spurred two new business plans with several more in the works and a bevy of other activities.

Kasarda believes UNC’s exponential entrepreneurial growth can be attributed to a new approach that reaches beyond the walls of the Kenan-Flagler Business School.

"We’ve broadened the definition of entrepreneurship to realize that all the students aren’t immediately thinking about starting a business, but they want to make a difference," he said.

CEI officials suggest it’s just a matter of taking motivated students and giving them the proper arena in which to thrive.

"Entrepreneurship is a contact sport; it’s an experiential engagement," Kasarda said. "It’s one that you need to give the students the opportunity to not just listen to lectures, but to interact in small group sessions with leading entrepreneurs, and we’ve provided that opportunity for them."

But even with all the success and awards, school officials are still not content. They want to bolster the entrepreneurial minor program and split it into varying tracks including business, social, artistic and scientific.

Housed in the economics department of the College of Arts and Sciences, the program was capped at 50 students for the fall term. The ultimate goal for four years down the road is to have a program that’s 200 students deep with 50 on each track. And there’s still more to do after that, Kasarda added.

"We’d like to our model utilized by others," he said.

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