New entrepeneurship center hopes to foster talents, hatch student ideas

Last year, Ohio University could barely offer its students a shot at pursuing their creative business plans. A new Center for Entrepreneurship and six student organizations later, OU has become a major player in the nationwide movement.

Starting Friday, at least 30 students and community members will participate in the Innovation Center’s Startup Weekend, where they’ll be given just 52 hours to pair up, form a plan and pitch their potentially-marketable ideas. This is only the first in a number of upcoming events promoting entrepreneurship at OU.

“There is a movement that is being harnessed on this campus,” said Keven Aspegren of OU’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and the Center for Entrepreneurship. “… So we created the center to be an identity for it.”

Since its opening earlier this year, the center has established a Bobcat Hatchery in Copeland Hall, designed for the sole purpose of giving students a special place to nurture their innovative ideas.

“The goal is to turn ideas into businesses and move them out,” Aspegren said.
And though OU has never offered an entrepreneurship curriculum, the College of Business will offer an entrepreneurial certificate and four-year degree starting Fall Semester 2012.

To maintain diversity in the emerging program, the College of Business is determined to get students from different backgrounds on board. Only three of the five courses required for its certificate are business-related, giving students the freedom to take electives in their own fields.

“No matter what you decide to do, entrepreneurship skills are critical at this point,” said Jennifer Simon, director of the Innovation Center. “This certificate just says, ‘I understand the effects of my decisions.’”

Only about 40 percent of students involved in these new groups — even an entire fraternity — are business majors, Aspegren estimated. Students from the Russ College of Engineering to the Scripps School of Communications are getting involved, too.

“That diversity is really important because when you come up with something, it’s not always narrowed down to just business,” said Jessy Jiao, a senior studying psychology and biological sciences and public relations coordinator for Ohio Think Design, one of the six new student organizations. “You really need all sorts of talents to form a team.”

And among the upcoming events, including a Pitch Your Plan day in May and a 10-week entrepreneurship boot camp called the Innovation Engine Accelerator in June, some are open to more than just college students, as is this weekend’s affair.

“As a university, we have an additional mission to work with the community on economic development by increasing wealth and adding jobs that pay higher salaries,” Simon said.

And with the grant funds and support from the college, a team of diplomats from OU’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, the Innovation Center and College of Business has succeeded in expanding their boundaries beyond the university’s borders — and their students are reaping the benefits.

“You have to meet people and see other talents to be able to see the world,” Jiao said. “Having people from other places really helps open your eyes to other ideas.”

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