Founded upon the legacy of a true educational innovator, La Salle University has continued the tradition of a student-centered teaching model that was anything but traditional at the time St. John Baptist de La Salle pioneered this approach.
A community of Explorers, the University has worked tirelessly to ensure that innovation is not only a part of our foundation, but also a key component of our future. For the Center of Entrepreneurship, that has meant redefining what an education in entrepreneurship means here at La Salle.
Since its founding in 2010, the Center has continued to evolve to meet the needs of the changing market—like any good entrepreneurial venture. Moving forward, the Center’s leadership wants to venture beyond the traditional boundaries of business and head in a new direction.
“We’re expanding beyond purely business-related concepts and refocusing on innovation,” said Steve Melick, the Center’s Executive Director. “Innovation needs to be at the core of what students do.”
The Center recently revamped its mission to incude new academic and experiential programming designed to reach students across disciplines and majors outside of the School of Business in which it is housed.
One of the first steps in this new direction, the inaugural Open Minds Sustainable Innovations Challenge in early February, drew 43 students from various schools and majors, filling almost every available spot in the first-ever competition of its kind on La Salle’s campus.
“We want to encourage shared ownership of our Center among all aspects of the University and recognize the importance of entrepreneurship and innovative thinking in all academic disciplines,” Melick said. “As we redefine our programming with more emphasis on innovation, we are already seeing spikes in student interest across campus.”
Pioneering a New Vision
Every business begins with an idea—an innovation that changes the way a problem is solved in an industry for years to come. With the Open Minds competition, Melick wanted to highlight this creative side of business to make entrepreneurship an opportunity that all La Salle students can consider pursuing.
“Some students may feel that they’re not cut out for entrepreneurship, but innovation is a precursor to entrepreneurship. You can’t have one without the other,” he said. “With this competition, we’re putting more emphasis on the innovation. We’re taking the sting out of the business side of it.”
Over the first weekend of February, students converged in Holroyd Hall on an intense mission to find innovative solutions to complex challenges involving sustainability. They formed teams with two to five members and worked around the clock to research a specific problem, create a sustainable solution, and prepare a business presentation for a panel of judges.
“I think it’s really important that these students get exposed to the process of idea formation and how to potentially make an idea a reality,” said judge Stephen Zarrilli, ’83, President and CEO of Safeguard Scientifics Inc. “It is important that the Center for Entrepreneurship take the lead in providing these skill set development opportunities. It is also important to further develop new and unique ways to educate students about this concept.”
The core goals of the competition—in addition to the tangible products created—were to inform students about the innovation process and teach in-depth problem-solving skills while inspiring creative thinking. The teams competed to earn internship opportunities as well as their share of more than $10,000 in cash awards to be used for ongoing research and development for their products.
The challenge was sponsored by a generous donation from CaptiveAire President and CEO Robert Luddy, ’68, whose vision for students to become lifelong learners and virtuous leaders is a fundamental part of the Center for Entrepreneurship’s redefined mission.
Business leaders in the coming years must constantly remain alert,think creatively, embrace opportunities, and improve continuously to remain competitive. –Robert Luddy, ’68
“Business leaders in the coming years must constantly remain alert, think creatively, embrace opportunities, and improve continuously to remain competitive,” Luddy said. “Those who are complacent and satisfied with the present will not only fail to grow, but will quickly be overtaken and forgotten.
“Entrepreneurial thinking and innovation are imperative for future success, and this process must begin at the University.”
Students Guiding One Another
It’s a process that often begins at the peer level. “Students listen to other students,” said Marsha Timmerman, assistant professor of Integrated Science, Business, and Technology (ISBT), who worked with Melick to create the Open Minds Challenge. “It’s not that they don’t respect faculty and advisers, but the reality is we don’t always speak their language. Students can speak to other students and get them excited about this process.”
That’s the idea behind the University Innovation Fellows Program, run by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation. With nearly 300 fellows representing 114 schools across the United States, this National Science Foundation-funded program is designed to encourage students to learn from each other, improve student-led entrepreneurial activity on campus, and promote entrepreneurship in their community.
In February, three La Salle students joined their ranks—sophomore Kenneth Brewer and juniors Trans Lualhati and Onesimus Morrison. These fellows will serve as ambassadors of innovation on campus. “We have learned a lot already from other universities, and bringing students into this process has been exceptionally valuable,” Melick said.
Lualhati has already been stirring up excitement, especially since he recently became involved with EnablingtheFuture.org—an organization that creates 3-D prosthetic hands for people in need, primarily children in third-world countries. “My hope is to get people on campus more involved with 3-D printing. The possibilities are just endless,” he said. “You can make a prototype of a cup holder, a bracelet, or anything really within a matter of minutes.”
The Philadelphia native became smitten with the technology from the minute he first laid eyes upon a 3-D printer in one of his material science classes at La Salle. Encouraged by ISBT professor William Weaver, Ph.D., to let his imagination run wild, Lualhati started his own company, -Bot. Headquartered in his La Salle dorm room, the company specializes in custom 3-D printing of everything from buttons to knickknacks and key chains.
The ISBT major also recently joined La Salle’s Enactus team—formerly known as Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE). La Salle is just one of 1,600 universities in the international non- profit organization’s network of 66,500 students in 36 countries around the globe. The mission of these student, academic, and business leaders is to use “the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a better, more sustainable world.”
La Salle’s Enactus team, which now has 72 members, has been encouraging students from all disciplines to foster an innovative mindset since first appearing on campus in 2001. In that time, the team has won eight regional championships and been awarded more than $15,000 in grants from major corporations.
“In educating our students for the future, we have to be ready to make them problem-solvers and innovators,” said Timmerman, the team’s faculty adviser. “It’s really a mindset that shouldn’t be limited to entrepreneurs— we want everyone to be creative, to be innovative, and to solve problems.”
When it came to encouraging other students to participate in the Open Minds Challenge, the Enactus team didn’t disappoint. While just a few team members competed, the entire team was key in organizing, publicizing, promoting, and staffing the event.
Team President Deirdre Rice was one of the nine Enactus members who entered the competition. “I would say that this Open Minds Challenge really summed up all four years of my La Salle education,” said the senior communication major, who is also minoring in religion and marketing. “I used things I’ve learned from every discipline.”
Like Rice, more than half of the participants were non-business majors, including students pursing sociology, biology, environmental science, nursing, and ISBT. Demographically, the Open Minds competition also attracted a diverse group of students—70 percent of participants were minorities and 36 percent were women.
Melick deemed the competition—which he hopes will become an annual event—an all-around success. And the judges agreed.
“What the Center drove home with this competition was phenomenal. I was floored not only by the students’ level of enthusiasm but by the quality of the concepts developed,” Zarrilli said. “It’s important that we continue to provide opportunities for students to think outside the box and be given tools to think innovatively about new concepts.”