Traditionally, college has been viewed as the place one goes after high school--just another step on the ladder to success in one’s chosen career. For today’s students, though, college is so much more: It’s a chance to explore their ideas and passion for serving their community and improving the world for everyone. Southwestern Adventist University has created a life-size tool to help these students do just that.
The SWAU Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center officially launched at the start of the 2021-2022 school year. Though its official name has yet to be decided, the Center is open for business—literally! This interdisciplinary hub caters to students of all degrees and areas of study who have ideas for opening a small business. The Center will provide workshops, coaching, CV reviews, round table events with successful entrepreneurs, mentoring, and more. Last year’s pre-opening event, hosted by SWAU’s Enactus club, saw over 150 students participating.
“Our goal is to create a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship on campus, offering students a way to procure some startup funding and help them grow their business,” says Licci Zemleduch, professor of business and communication and founding director for the Center.
But they’re not going to stop there. Ultimately, the Center hopes to support not only students, but also staff, faculty, alumni, and community members.
“We believe our mission at SWAU is to serve our entire community,” Zemleduch explains. “This of course means our students are a priority, but we forget sometimes that our community includes the people around us every day—our colleagues. We also feel it’s important to share our resources with alumni because even if they aren’t physically here on our campus anymore, they’re still part of our family, and we want to see them grow too.”
One of the events Enactus hosted last year included a pitching competition, in which ten students pitched their business plans to compete for funding. A total of $10,000 was given away to the top three students. The first-place winner has already seen the fruits of their success; they were accepted into the TechFW SmartStart program, a business incubator for tech products or services, and offered a paid internship with TCU Entrepreneurship.
"Many students are interested in entrepreneurship, yet they don't know where to begin,” says Ana Patterson, SWAU president. “This initiative will provide a framework for students from any academic background to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for them to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. By providing access to information, connections with community leaders and opportunities for funding, the goal of this program is to create a bridge that allows for ideas to become reality.”
The Center is a safe place for creative individuals to experiment and grow and to explore their innovative side and see where it takes them. Zemleduch says the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to all manner of ideas and brainstorms and has created the perfect opportunity for the Center to provide students with the necessary tools to rise to both present and future challenges.
Currently, the Center is housed within the business department in Pechero Hall, but eventually, Zemleduch’s hope is to repurpose and redesign a portion of the library to house a specific, physical location for the Center.
Funding for resources, competitions, and projects comes mostly from committed donors supporting the university’s new endeavor, though the institution has allocated some resources for the Center as well. A private donor has committed to $25,000 annually for the next five years to support the Center.
Zemleduch’s hope is to establish regular funding from various sources interested in seeing college students and communities grow, thrive, and learn. The Center looks forward to establishing future relationships with sponsors who will provide yearly resources to financially sustain programing and projects. Fundraising for growth of the Center includes identifying private donors and pursuing grant opportunities.
“We want this Center to be a special place on campus where those who enter adopt the powerful mindset to put ideas into the world and see what develops,” adds Zemleduch. “It's just one more way we’re helping SWAU students inspire knowledge, faith, and service.”
To support student entrepreneurs at SWAU, email email@example.com.