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Old Dominion University emphasizes aiding entrepreneurs

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ODU President John R. Broderick Photo by Mark Rhodes

In a region brimming with military installations, federal laboratories, a major East Coast port and shipyards, Old Dominion University does not have to look far for opportunities to impact Hampton Roads’ economy.

With nearly 25,000 students and $96.2 million in research and development expenditures, the university contributes more than $2.1 billion annually to Hampton Roads’ economy. Not bad for an institution launched during the Great Depression.

Opened in 1930 as the two-year Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary, the school became independent and took on the moniker Old Dominion College in 1962, attaining university status seven years later. “This region gives us significant niches that very few colleges or universities have,” says ODU President John R. Broderick. “There’s a good mix of opportunities to teach, study and find avenues where economic development is a natural spinoff.”

The university’s role in the region’s economy has surged in recent years with the development of programs that assist not only students preparing for careers in the marketplace but also local businesses and industries. ODU’s Business Gateway is the university’s front door to local companies seeking research assistance, technological assistance and research partnerships.

“If you’re a startup, we’ll help you think about your ideas and put together a plan to execute your business,” says its executive director, Martin Kaszubowski. “We try to add value to a client wherever we think we can.”

The Business Gateway includes Launch Hampton Roads for aspiring entrepreneurs, the Veterans Business Outreach Center (funded with a grant from the Small Business Administration), the Women’s Business Center for women-owned companies, the Technology Applications Center offering engineering support to businesses and the Hampton Roads Procurement Assistance Center, which helps companies compete for government contracts.

“Whoever walks in the door, we try to serve with a variety of services for whatever they need,” Kaszubowski says. “We’ve got a bunch of happy clients.”

One of them is Arizone Hollins Brown, co-founder of ASJ IT Services, an information technology management firm that set up shop in Chesapeake last year. Seminars and mentoring sessions with Launch Hampton Roads, the veterans’ and women’s business centers and the Procurement Assistance Center helped Brown get up to speed on her venture.  “As a new business owner, you’ve got lots and lots of questions, and having those resources in one location really helps,” she says. “These centers have given us credibility and helped us build relationships.”

The Business Gateway is housed in ODU’s Innovation Research Park, one of the few research parks in the U.S. based on the campus of its institution. Located in the 75-acre University Village, the 5-year-old park is a business-friendly entry to university resources. “Sometimes navigating colleges and universities for particular resources is difficult,” Broderick says. “We want to take all that difficulty out of that and help people identify those they need to work with.” Businesses outside ODU also have located in the park because of relationships with ongoing university research or teaching.

Entrepreneurial center
Those relationships are strengthened by Old Dominion’s emphasis on entrepreneurialism. Last year, ODU alumnus Mark Strome and his wife, Tammy, gave the university $11 million to create a student-focused entrepreneurial center. Strome is the founder, chairman and chief investment officer of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Strome Investment Management LP. 

“Entrepreneurs create jobs,” Strome said at the dedication of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center last September.  “And when a person has a job, he’s empowered.” 

While a previous entrepreneurial center based at the university primarily assisted outside startups, the Strome Center focuses on student entrepreneurs.  “It gives the students a significant edge, a place to share ideas and work together and take those ideas to business and industry leaders in Hampton Roads,” Broderick says.

That, adds Nancy Grden, the center’s executive director, galvanizes students in all academic disciplines to develop ideas that will create economic and social value in Hampton Roads and beyond. The center’s staff offers free consultations on business ideas to students and faculty and puts would-be entrepreneurs in touch with potential investors. “When you look at the demographics of people in their 20s and 30s, there’s a strong desire to be independent and create their own destiny,” Grden says. “It’s easier than it has ever been to create a business.”

The center is also the nucleus of the Entsminger Fellows Program, a clearinghouse for handpicked faculty members to infuse entrepreneurism in academic departments and courses throughout the university.  A $100,000 gift from alumnus Lee Entsminger funds the annual program. “Innovation is everywhere,” Grden says. “An engineer might have a great idea for a problem-solving product. Someone in biotechnology has a scientific discovery. An educator has an idea for a new school.” 

Meanwhile, ODU opened a new school last year at its Virginia Beach Higher Education Center for nontraditional learners. Working with Old Dominion’s business and military partners, the College of Continuing Education and Professional Development offers classes in areas such as public procurement, engineering and education. “It makes us more flexible to serve the needs of business and industry,” Broderick says. “A lot of companies we work with are looking for very specific skill sets.”

ODU recently crossed the $40 million threshold in annual federal research expenditures for the first time in the school’s history. That’s especially significant, says Morris Foster, the university’s vice president of research, in the face of flat or declining federal research disbursements. The uptick reflects the volume of Department of Defense research performed at ODU as well as faculty doggedness in submitting research proposals. “We’re a relatively young institution and haven’t had time to establish a unique identity as a research institution, but we’re clearly moving there,” Foster adds.

Sea-level research
ODU research teams generate about  $67 million annually through more than 400 ongoing projects. That includes the university’s research in climate change and sea-level rise, a focus Broderick began with the Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative five years ago. A byproduct is the Mitigation and Adaptation Research Institute which conducts research to help coastal communities cope with the impacts of sea level rise and climate change.

“This issue directly involves the military and major employers,” Broderick says. “Everyone is in agreement that we have to work together because it impacts all of us.” He hopes this endeavor will lead to the university’s designation as a federal center for the study of sea level. “The great upside for us is it’s created an entrepreneurial culture where people will look for ways to mitigate and adapt to sea level rise.”

ODU is taking advantage of its coastal location to perform innovative research in sea-level rise, Foster notes. “We can do something that’s regionally relevant and benefits the economy but in a way that enhances ODU’s national and international reputation.” University research includes infrastructure vulnerability, technology that could lead to more resilient construction in coastal regions, and the public health implications of sea level rise. “We are just beginning sea level research, but we can develop and produce things in Hampton Roads and take them elsewhere as our intellectual property that can be licensed.” 

And ultimately bring new businesses and jobs to Hampton Roads, he adds.  “Economic development is not based on this region going to California and taking 500 jobs and bringing them here,” Broderick says. “We have the place to make inroads and trigger new and different jobs.”

Old Dominion University at a glance

Source: Old Dominion University

Location Norfolk

1930: Norfolk Division of The College of William and Mary

1962: Independent institution

1969: University status


24,670 total

19,612 undergraduate; 5,058 graduate

International: 1,092 from 105 countries

Alumni More than 124,000 in all 50 states and 67 countries
President John R. Broderick
Faculty Full-time: 722      Part-time: 502
Accolades U.S. News & World Report listed online graduate programs in ODU's Darden College of Education as eighth among the nation's graduate education programs for student services and technology and 10th for admissions selectivity.


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