Some children dream of becoming doctors, others of becoming world-renowned scientists or movie stars. Robert Enck was the kind of kid who thought about new ideas to start a business.
In eighth grade, Enck wanted to start a company that sold sunglasses with interchangeable stems. Customers could mix and match colors and designs for a new look each day. Enck was disappointed when he found a website that sold exactly what he envisioned, but he didn’t give up.
A UGA senior finance major, Enck is chasing a new concept for a startup: a digital platform to boost ticket sales for half-empty concert venues. If the native of Dalton has his way, eleez (which stands for Enhancing Live Event Experiences) could revolutionize the way people buy tickets for events. He’s acquiring skills, gaining experience and even finding some financing to make that dream a reality through UGA’s Entrepreneurship Program, which has its roots in the Terry College of Business but is in the midst of a campus-wide expansion.
Starting this fall, UGA began offering a campus-wide certificate program in entrepreneurship. The program is providing in-class and experiential learning opportunities aimed at teaching students how to launch and grow a business through tenacity, smart risk-taking and effective team building. The certificate will be open to all students, regardless of major, and will prepare them for a shifting job market while adding an academic component to an already thriving environment of entrepreneurship and innovation.
“Our Entrepreneurship Certificate Program is part of a broader effort to ensure that our students are positioned for success after graduation,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “It also underscores the role the University of Georgia plays in making our state and nation more economically competitive and dynamic.”
The certificate’s curriculum is focused on building startup companies, with an emphasis on innovation. Students will take three core courses focused on launching, financing and managing startups, plus two elective courses in fields ranging from agriculture to journalism and psychology. The elective courses (such as agribusiness marketing, digital and social communications strategies, retail entrepreneurship and sociology of leadership) help students tailor what they’re learning about entrepreneurship back to the fields where they can apply it.
“It’s about starting small and going big,” says Bob Pinckney, director of UGA’s Entrepreneurship Program and a UGA graduate.
As Pinckney, the former CEO of sport protection equipment company EvoShield, sees it, there are two driving forces shaping entrepreneurship in the economy.
“Technology is the big change. The internet allows business ideas to be extremely scalable with companies like Uber, Facebook or Dropbox. These are companies in the U.S. that start in a small environment, but they can go global very quickly,” Pinckney said. “The other thing is that the traditional career path of joining up with an IBM and staying there 30 years and retiring is disappearing.”
Pinckney predicts that people increasingly are going to start businesses, work as freelancers or become consultants at some point in their lives.
“The nature of business in this country is evolving to where we all probably need to be thinking entrepreneurially in our career,” he said.
As the program’s director, Pinckney brings an insider’s experiences to the classroom. The Terry College and Harvard Business School graduate has helped found several consulting, software and telecommunications companies.
Experience lies at the foundation of this program. The entrepreneurship courses revolve around examining case studies of startup businesses and addressing real-world problems. Special guest speakers, alumni and friends of the university regularly visit to share hard-won lessons about entrepreneurship.
While the program is housed in the business school, it is open to all students, regardless of major. Students in art, science, international affairs, engineering and biology all have the opportunity to explore what it’s like to start a business.
Junior Sarah Manning, from Rome, wants to start a speech pathology practice. In addition to majoring in communication sciences, she plans to enhance her degree with a certificate in entrepreneurship.
The launch of the certificate program is happening amid a growing culture of entrepreneurship in Athens. UGA’s Thinc. initiative, launched in 2013 to provide inspiration and advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, offers noncredit pop-up classes, such as coding for students who aren’t computer science majors. And tech incubator Four Athens is nurturing an off-campus entrepreneurship community.
Outside the classroom, the Entrepreneurship Program guides students through experiences to help turn their ideas into profitable businesses. UGA’s Next Top Entrepreneur is a national competition hosted in Athens in which students pitch their existing business or idea for a $10,000 prize. The Collegiate Next Great Consumer Brands program invites student teams from all over the country to present consumer/retail brand ideas or businesses, with the winner receiving a $25,000 award. Both programs are supported by private funds.
In UGA’s Idea Accelerator Program, an eight-week “business boot camp,” UGA faculty and Athens-area entrepreneurs help students hone their ideas as they compete for a $5,000 prize to invest in their business. The idea is to give students the chance to launch a startup idea before they graduate and must choose between pursuing their dreams and paying rent.
Last fall, Enck took his digital ticket sales idea through the accelerator program and won the top prize. He’s using the money to develop an app and website for his idea and to begin marketing to music venues.
“It was an amazing experience,” Enck said. “I learned so much about how you start a business. True learning experiences happen by getting out there and trying to make things happen.”