Alex Hernandez, Russ Scully, and Robert Rea speaking with students. Photo courtesy of Champlain University.
By Alex Hernandez, President of Champlain University
I came to Champlain College with a desire to help students be “ready to work, ready for life, and ready to make a difference.” I received the following email from a student on a recent Sunday evening. Any feedback? “
Being president of a new university can get people busy, but I immediately dropped everything to help this student realize his ideas. I reviewed his launch plan, brainstormed, and connected him with friends at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET). We embraced this student who is making dreams come true and making the world a better place.
The influence of entrepreneurs is real. According to a recent economic impact report, a Champlain graduate has started more than 1,000 of her businesses in Vermont, which is a significant amount that the college and its alumni contribute nearly $500 million to the state economy. The reason is.
Vermont goes far beyond its ranks when it comes to entrepreneurship. In 2021, at the height of the pandemic, Vermont startups have raised nearly $600 million to expand their influence, create jobs, and revitalize their communities.
Entrepreneurship is central to Champlain University’s career-focused, experience-focused approach to higher education. This spring, I had the opportunity to teach a masterclass in Hula as part of a new partnership between Champlain University and Hula to support entrepreneurship in Vermont. Students majoring in technology, design, business, and social innovation came together to form teams to pitch new startup ideas in a “guppy tank.”
In Hula’s class, students met with Vermont startup founders from leading organizations such as OnLogic, Commando, Benchmark Space Systems, and Let’s Grow Kids. Here are some key lessons learned from our class.
First, students learned that successful entrepreneurs come from all walks of life. The Vermont founder worked in restaurant kitchens, marketing firms, scientific labs, and state government before launching the organization. They were over 30 years old and had different personality types. The media may sensationalize the young man who dropped out of college, but there is no archetypal entrepreneur. The good news is that entrepreneurship is a set of skills that can be learned in classes like ours and in communities like Hula.
Second, students learned to see themselves as entrepreneurs. One speaker, while standing in line at a local sandwich shop down the street, told how she and her co-founder decided to partner. Another founder spoke of an investor who agreed to invest in Hula Ranchroom. One day, after class, a student called me aside and said, I didn’t know all of this existed here in our backyard. “
Third, I discovered that students need to learn by doing. It’s one thing to talk about listening to your customers, it’s one thing to actually interview people to identify big problems worth solving and design human-centered solutions. The only way to pitch a startup well is to practice and be open to feedback. Through practice, students develop the courage, humility, and determination necessary to be successful entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship isn’t just for Silicon Valley-style software startups. Some great entrepreneurs are social innovators who start nonprofits or rethink how governments can serve their citizens. I believe that everyone can benefit from entrepreneurship skills and an entrepreneurial spirit.
It’s easy to focus on everything that’s wrong in the world, but entrepreneurs dream of a better future and strive to create the world they want to live in. they make a difference. That’s why we’re here to help students drop everything late Sunday night and start their entrepreneurial journey here in Vermont.
Left to right: Charles Bush, Alex Hernandez, Russ Scully, Robert Rea.