Student Jack Tarca may never have created his business, Find the Good Brand clothing company, if it weren’t for the entrepreneurship guidance he received at UConn.
“UConn gave me the confidence to start my own venture and build my clothing brand into a meaningful and impactful business,” said Tarca, a senior majoring in management. “The curriculum has allowed me to see a sustainable future with my business, allowing me to pursue this as a career.”
Tarca said the entrepreneurial ecosystem at UConn and at the School of Business, helped him develop a network of successful professionals and mentors to continue to advise him as he prepares to graduate and to expand his startup, which advocates for mental-health awareness and overall well-being.
“In my opinion, the best part of the program is being surrounded by like-minded peers who are just as excited to solve problems as I am,” Tarca said.
Students Of Many Majors Seek Knowledge on Entrepreneurship
Over the last decade, the School of Business’ management department has incorporated a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship, both in its courses and its mission. Now, to underscore that commitment, it has officially changed its name to the Management and Entrepreneurship Department.
Professor Greg Reilly, who leads the department, said the name change is timely as the program continues to meet milestones in its growth, including expanding access to entrepreneurial education to students of disciplines outside of the School of Business. Whether majoring in science, art, engineering, healthcare or business, students are eager to learn how to bring novel ideas to the marketplace, he said.
Another component of the program’s growth has been the creation of Hillside Ventures, a student-run organization that vets promising startups and selects which ones to invest in. The program gives students real-world experience in venture capital, and prepares them with the behind-the-scenes analysis required for success.
“We are not yet at our destination with entrepreneurship and innovation,” Reilly said. “There is still a great deal of exciting growth to come.”
Dean John A. Elliott agreed that the name change reflects the expanded mission of the department. “Entrepreneurship has become a major component of who we are as a School of Business, and for that matter, as a university,” he said.
Working at the Speed of Thought
Professor Ryan Coles teaches an introductory course, called The Entrepreneurship Journey [MENT 2234], and said that it draws students who are especially passionate about their future.
“I think students understand that the building blocks for starting a business are abundant across our social landscape, and they are looking for training on how to put all of those blocks together into a new organization that has a positive impact on the world,” he said.
In his course, Coles stresses the fundamentals of building a sustainable organization, including mental/emotional resilience, a specific type of social network, management capability, and scientific capability to validate an idea.
“In my class sessions, I help students develop their social networks through guest speakers, we actually practice techniques for building mental/emotional resilience together, we practice management, and we practice validating business ideas using the scientific method,” he said. “I try not to speak so much as do. Then I invite students to learn by working with me. In this ‘game’ you learn by having the space to work at the speed of thought.”
It’s important to note that developing skills in entrepreneurship are transferrable to corporate employment as well, Reilly said.
“Entrepreneurs are typically scrappy, creative and excel at figuring things out,” he said. “They are willing to take risks and step outside their lane to achieve great things. These are great tools no matter what management challenge you face. It’s a different way of thinking, a different way of approaching problems, and it is very useful in many places.”
Entrepreneurship itself is evolving, Reilly said. Some students—particularly athletes, artists and influencers– are interested in personal brand entrepreneurship; while others explore technology innovation, small-business entrepreneurship, or social entrepreneurship.
“All these types of innovation fit under the entrepreneurship umbrella and all very much compliment what we’ve done in the past,” Reilly said. “As management experts, we understand people, and how to lead them, how to structure an organization, the pathway to success in markets, those are things we’ve always taught. Now we’re applying those practices to the distinct challenges of a startup mode.”
Doing What You Love
Senior Nick Pronovost, who is majoring in geological and earth sciences, had developed a side-interest in creating videos, which he posted on social media for fun. As his hobby became more serious, his family was reluctant to encourage him to take on the challenges of being an entrepreneur.
“The entrepreneurial courses at UConn gave me a new perspective on career choice. I was stuck thinking I had to get a job in the field that I was studying, but now I realize the potential in monetizing something I actually enjoy doing,” he said.
“The entrepreneurship course with Dr. Coles is life-changing. The enthusiasm that he brings every day is contagious and I looked forward to the class every week,” Pronovost said.
“Dr. Coles is willing to sit down with every student and give the individualized guidance you need to be successful,” Pronovost said. “Without this class, I don’t think I would be able to continue doing what I love.”
Senior Eva Quigley, a nutritional sciences student, said she constantly compared her experience to that of other students taking on innovative projects and tried to emulate what they were doing.
“It was not until I took [Professor] David Noble‘s class, The Entrepreneurial Journey, that I realized that everyone’s journey in entrepreneurship is different and that it is not a ‘one size-fits-all’ experience,” she said.
Quigley is the co-creator of the Reach Bar, a novel protein bar with vegetables and other healthy ingredients. Not only does it meet a nutritional need but with every bar purchased Reach Bar donates a meal to a child in a food-insecure home. Quigley said she has learned to focus on her own journey but still benefits from the inspiration and guidance of peers and mentors.
“As I approach graduation in May, I intend to continue working on my startup, using the lessons I have learned and maintaining the connections I have made here. Without this course, and the support of the Werth Institute, I would not have accomplished nearly as much,” Quigley said.