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Entrepreneurship Spotlight: DePaul University

Alla Ioffe has only been to one Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) meeting, and she already wants to be its president.

"I can already tell I want to be a leader in the club someday," the DePaul University freshman said. "The networking opportunities are awesome."

There wouldn’t be a CEO without DePaul’s successful entrepreneurship program, the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center (CEC). The program "has been nationally ranked for the last 15 years," said Harold Welsch, a founder and director of the entrepreneurship center.

"This year Entrepreneur magazine ranked us in the top tier nationally, along with a dozen prominent universities such as MIT, Columbia University and the University of Southern California," he said.

After surveying 1,000 students in 1982 about whether they were likely to own their own business someday, CEC was born. Eighty percent of the student said they would like to, according to Welsch. "They had some insight into what the future might hold."

Because of that insight, DePaul was quick to offer entrepreneurship courses and majors at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

"There are over 1,100 universities offering entrepreneurship courses," said Welsch. "We were one of the first."

Because the entrepreneurship program has been around for so long, the DePaul chapter of CEO now enjoys learning from past members. "Many successful alumni come back to lecture," said Welsch. "Every year, CEO offers a national meeting where 1,000 students gather to hear entrepreneurial success stories."

Between the alumni speakers and available classes, CEO "knows how to think big," according to Ioffe, a management and economy student. "I think big too."

Part of thinking big involves combining all possible resources, said Rachel Miklas, the CEO marketing and public relations director. "Last spring, we merged with Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), which is a global, non-profit organization."

After combining forces, CEO now is a more powerful group with more objectives. More than 100 students expressed interest in the group at DePaul’s annual Involvement Fair, said Miklas. "We ended up having a pretty good turnout at our first meeting."

By coming to that first meeting, students such as Ioffe can learn about entrepreneurship, the market economy, personal financial success skills and business ethics, according to Miklas, a senior business management student.

"We work under those four guidelines at competitions [the club competes in]," she said. "We have students work those into scenarios, which they get judged on. They learn how to incorporate those skills."

In addition to following those guidelines and going to competitions, CEO has some other goals. CEO does have roundtable discussions for DePaul entrepreneurs and faculty advisors, Pat Murphy and Raman Chadha, but they want to bring in more well-known speakers.

"A big one [we want] is Bill Rancic," said Miklas. Rancic, the season one winner of Donald Trump’s hit show "The Apprentice," would be great to talk to, said Miklas, because of his own entrepreneurial skills.

However, alumni speakers brought in to speak to CEO, and the entrepreneurship program in general, are already pretty impressive themselves.

"Over 100 businesses have been started though DePaul’s Entrepreneurship Program, such as CPA firms, software companies, consulting services, retail [and] manufacturing companies," said Welsch.

Recently granted a $2.5 million grant from the Coleman Foundation to expand the entrepreneurship program, CEC has "been able to offer new courses and services such as Technology Commercialization, Entrepreneurship Consulting and Venture Financing," Welsch said.

Along with the grant, CEC is "establishing an ‘Angel Network’ to assist in financing of these start-ups. DePaul students and alumni have first crack at receiving these services."

The CEC is currently hoping to extend their outreach to more students and alumni, looking to interest them in CEC’s training, seminars, workshops and consulting services for start-up businesses.

"Our mission is to disseminate the entrepreneurship message and broadcast it as a viable career option and to assist entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses," Welch said. "We are attracting students from around the world."

For more information about the CEC and DePaul’s Entrepreneurship Program in general, please visit http://cec.depaul.edu/index.php.

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