Hollins University launches entrepreneurial institute

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Karen Messer-Bourgoin says the institute will create experiential
learning opportunities. Photo courtesy Hollins University

Hollins University always has emphasized the importance and power of a liberal-arts education. Now it’s expanding the reach of liberal arts by establishing the Institute for Entrepreneurial Learning, a partnership with New York-based Prehype, a venture development firm.

The institute also plans to work with regional organizations, including The Advancement Foundation, Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program (RAMP), Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council and Roanoke Regional Small Business Development Center.

“In the end, it’s really about experiential learning for students,” says Karen Messer-Bourgoin, the institute’s director, “developing an entrepreneurial mindset that is infiltrated into our Hollins community and then being a meaningful asset here in the Roanoke Valley and the world.”

Messer-Bourgoin will visit India in January to explore opportunities to collaborate with Ahmedabad University and entrepreneurs in Bangalore.

Under the institute arrangement, Hollins professors and Prehype staff will team teach courses, and up to 10 students will intern with Prehype during Hollins’ annual January term.

Patricia Hammer, Hollins’ vice president for academic affairs, sees the institute as another way to help students prepare for a changing world.

“These days, students are not preparing for a single career,” Hammer says. “They’re preparing for five, seven, eight different career changes in their lifetime.” A liberal-arts degree prepares people for those changes, she says. Adding entrepreneurial education makes the liberal-arts package stronger.

Stacey Seltzer, a Prehype partner, told a recent gathering of faculty and students that change is accelerating and people are living longer, so the pressure for serial personal and professional reinvention is increasing.

“We need more entrepreneurship, and we need more entrepreneurism,” Seltzer says. That doesn’t mean more venture-backed startups. It means developing and applying entrepreneurial skills and attitudes. “Entrepreneurship,” he says, “is a methodology for solving problems in a scalable and sustainable way.”

The institute’s courses will be available to students across the university, not just business majors. That prospect excited at least three students at Seltzer’s presentation.

Leslie Giorgetti, a junior biology major, hopes to own a veterinary practice one day. She thinks a grounding in entrepreneurship will help her. Junior psychology major Kealeboga Kanyenda says her father is starting a business to supply miners in Zimbabwe and Botswana. The institute might prepare her for the family business. First-year student Elsie Uwera says she never considered becoming an entrepreneur. “Starting your own thing,” she says, “that was scary.”

That was before she heard Seltzer talk about the institute. Now, she says, she’s interested in the opportunity.

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