Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

University Innovation Is a Cycle, Not an Arrow

By Sarah Goforth

In my role as an entrepreneurship educator at a research university, I regularly “hit the streets” in search of non-business graduate students who are driven to solve problems, commercialize technologies or start new ventures. (The business students tend to find me.)

In academia, “publish or perish” is often viewed as the core mandate and a graduate student’s time is already stretched by the demands of coursework and grant-funded research. And students who want to explore entrepreneurship can feel tension with peers and faculty who believe that business, or anything that looks like it, is a distraction from or a threat to work driven by curiosity and theory.

As one molecular biology graduate student noted after a workshop I led for her department, “I associate the word ‘entrepreneurship’ with greed and capitalism. I was skeptical of everything you were saying as a result.”

I hope I was successful in broadening her view of the term, but my goal was not to change her mind about her career as a basic researcher. Far from it. Without the patient pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, what ground would entrepreneurs – particularly those working in deep tech fields such as drug development, clean energy, biotech and materials – have to build on?

Universities, and for the most part only universities, create a virtuous cycle between fundamental discovery and entrepreneurship. This culture, the blending of explorers and changemakers, is inextricable, or at least it should be. And, the evidence shows, it is most productive when people on both sides of the equation are celebrated and supported.

At the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Arkansas, we discuss these cultural conditions every day. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, and many graduate students became unable to access their labs or field sites, we created an Innovation Scholars program to help them learn the principles of commercialization and entrepreneurship from home.

They are working on new forms of robotics, next-generation genome sequencing, algorithms that help detect disease, friction-reducing surface materials and other technologies that in most cases are still many years away from any practical application. But understanding the problems their research might solve and the market opportunities associated with those problems, gives them new ideas for their research and opens up career paths.

Our experience working with these Innovation Scholars and hundreds of other entrepreneurial students over the past two years, has yielded three key lessons:

  • Entrepreneurship-friendly research environments are good for everyone.

Consider this study by the researcher Michael Roach at Cornell University. Roach found that STEM labs in which a principal investigator sets a supportive tone, encouraging graduate students to pursue any interest they have in entrepreneurship, are just as productive from a research point of view as labs that discourage entrepreneurship.

An added benefit is that students in the entrepreneurship-friendly environments are much more likely to succeed when they develop technologies and decide to bring them to market. Finally, as others have pointed out, commercialized technologies also bring new tools, questions and funding back to the fundamental research environment.

  • The ability to think like an entrepreneur boosts careers in academia and industry.

Entrepreneurial skills can help someone start a company or a nonprofit venture. The tools required to start something new are also important for anyone who wants to help existing organizations develop new products or services, or be more sustainable, or solve important problems.

Take healthcare. Dr. Neel Shah, an obstetrician-gynecologist and Harvard professor, spoke to a group of students – nursing, business, engineering and others – at the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub last spring. He relayed the story of public health workers who have battled HIV and tuberculosis in African communities. Traditional approaches – boosting the number of clinics and healthcare providers, marketing campaigns – were expensive and didn’t seem to work.

An inventive person who had spent time talking with people in the affected communities decided to try a simpler but unconventional approach: paying an ill person’s neighbor to check in and observe that person taking medication on schedule. No technology was involved in this approach, which is now standard practice and bears the label “directly observed care.” It was the pattern of thinking that led to this life-saving idea – starting with a problem, exploring it from a human perspective, trying simple experiments before spending a lot of time and money to build finished products – that mattered.

“Most problems, most people accept,” Shah said. “Entrepreneurship 101 is deciding you don’t want to do that.” When this light turns on for a student, it never turns off.

  • Being part of an entrepreneurial team develops essential boundary-spanning skills.

We often interview and survey students and alumni who participate in entrepreneurship training offered by our office and through the curriculum of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. These experiences have helped them create and build new ventures, for sure, but another theme consistently stands out: Entrepreneurship training, they tell us, made them better communicators. This is not about pitching for cash, Shark Tank-style, but about interdisciplinarity. Founding teams often have a good technical lead, a business lead and someone who is a great marketer or project manager. Their differences allow them to be wildly inventive and productive at the same time, so our programs insist, by design, on including many different  disciplines.

Developing an ability to translate between business and science, or between design and technology, or between molecular biology and biochemistry for that matter, is game-changing for students. The creative possibilities at the boundaries between disciplines allows fresh approaches to problems, can give rise to integrative research questions that people deeply embedded in their disciplines do not see, and benefit any career.

It is no wonder that at the University of Arkansas, growing research productivity has coincided with a growing number of invention disclosures and technology-based ventures. But the development of a culture that embraces and supports entrepreneurship and commercialization has taken more than a decade, with plenty of room to grow.

The day after meeting the biologists, I spoke to three students pursuing graduate degrees in space and planetary science. Students in this program at the University of Arkansas pursue the most exquisite interdisciplinary research questions you can imagine – probing conditions on Mars and the moons of Saturn, exploring the birth and evolution of galaxies, building the tools and technologies that propel next-generation spacecraft and so much more – and many of them go on to careers with NASA.

After my talk on how to become a problem-seeker, my colleague and friend Larry Roe, who is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Sciences, asked me if I thought all science needed to start with a problem.

I do not.

The world badly needs people who are driven by questions, regardless of whether the answers will be useful to anyone. This freedom to advance knowledge in fundamental ways is the most important human endeavor because it is the foundation our future and our planet’s future stands on.

But the beauty and the richness of a university environment is that people who are driven by questions and ideas work side by side with people who are focused on problems, or jobs, or developing the regional economy, and many other things. All of our students deserve an opportunity to be scholars and entrepreneurs, explorers and changemakers, and the evidence shows that this is not only possible, but good for everyone.

Sarah Goforth is executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and adjunct professor at the Sam M. Walton College of Business. An experienced entrepreneurship educator and former communications executive, she trains student-entrepreneurs and oversees innovation and entrepreneurship programs for students, faculty  and alumni of the University of Arkansas. She teaches the university’s graduate-level New Venture Development course sequence and has served as an instructor and mentor in multiple entrepreneurship programs across the state (including NSF I-Corps, I-Fund and UAMS Health Sciences Entrepreneurship Bootcamp).

Students Survey Consumer Sentiment Around Dining Out

A recent collaboration between the Arkansas Small Business Technology and Development Center (ASBTDC), the McMillion Innovation Studio and the Sam M. Walton College of Business sought to understand consumer sentiment around dining out as state officials eased restrictions on large public gatherings. Continue reading Students Survey Consumer Sentiment Around Dining Out

Walton College Engages Students Through Summer Programs

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the Sam M. Walton College of Business hosted four residential summer camps in June to introduce high school students to the University of Arkansas and Walton College.

The four camps introduce high ability minority students to career options, campus resources and campus life.

“Introducing college life to high school kids who may not otherwise have this opportunity is life changing,” said Barbara Lofton, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for Walton College. “Through our summer camp programs, these students meet faculty and staff, stay in dorm rooms and eat meals on campus, participate in research and learn about academic and career opportunities available to them.

“It changes their perception of college and makes them feel at home here.”

The Business Leadership Academy, held June 9-13, introduced newly admitted freshmen to campus life. The students enhanced leadership skills through team projects and met Walton staff and faculty. The program also told students about career opportunities in retail and marketing.

The Fleischer Scholars Program, held June 16-21, hosted two camps for low income high school juniors and seniors whose parents did not attend college. Fleischer Scholars Program I was for students new to the program. Fleischer Scholars Program II welcomed back students who attended the camp previously.

The weeklong camps taught students how to research, develop and present a business plan and helped them transition from high school to college. The Fleischer Scholars Program provides a four-year partial college scholarship to participants.

The Accounting Career Awareness Program was held June 23-28 for underrepresented high school juniors and seniors interested in pursuing careers in accounting. Students attended undergraduate classes and networked with accouting professionals. Workshops focused on basic skills needed for accounting careers, business etiquette and requirements for certified public accountants.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion was established in 1994 to support, advocate and assist Walton College in developing plans for diversity and supporting students throughout the college. It is the oldest office of diversity at an Southeastern Conference business school and recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. For more information regarding the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, visit walton.uark.edu/diversity.

 About the University of Arkansas:The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 2.7 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

Free Innovation and Entrepreneurship Workshops for Students, Faculty, Staff and Alumni

The McMillon Innovation Studio at the Sam M. Walton College of Business is joining forces with the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation to bring a series of workshops and services to university students, faculty, staff and alumni during the spring 2019 semester. The workshops and services focus on building skills needed for innovation, creative problem-solving and meaningful collaboration.

Free Workshops
This semester’s events include:

  • Creative Confidence – Participants learn how to strengthen team dynamics by applying art and theater principles like improvisation that build trust and agility. This 1-hour, interactive workshop is designed to:
    • Foster an open and collaborative environment.
    • Build creative confidence.
    • Facilitate an “agile” way of working.
    • Get people outside their comfort zone.

These workshops are deployed on an as-needed basis, typically at the start of a class with group projects. Email oei@uark.edu to schedule.

  • The Heart of the Customer – Deep empathy for the end user is a meaningful starting place for new innovations and businesses. Participants learn key techniques for empathizing and interacting with their audience – clients, users, patients or customers. This workshop helps participants:
    • Create an open mindset to change and iteration.
    • Understand empathy and why it is important.
    • Practice drawing key insights from an empathy map and customer discovery interviews.

Workshops will be held Feb. 20 from 5:45-7 p.m. at the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub just off the Fayetteville square or on Feb. 26 from noon-1:30 p.m. at the McMillon Studio located in the Harmon Parking Garage on campus.

  • Prototype and Iterate – Workshop attendees learn how to create, release and test “minimum delightful experiences.” Participants will gain experience rapid prototyping in a safe environment. By the end of this hands-on workshop, participants will:
    • Understand the importance of failure.
    • Know how to use feedback loops to inform iterations.
    • Practice prototyping in the McMillon Studio makerspace (3D printing, digital tools, sewing, drawing, etc.).

Workshops will be held March 6 from 5-6:30 p.m. or on March 12 from 5-6:30 p.m. at the McMillon Studio.

  • Setting Your Idea Free – This workshop is intended for people who have a prototype or a solution and need to get funders, partners or customers onboard. Participants will learn key storytelling techniques in a low-risk, highly interactive speed-pitching session. Participants will:
    • Learn the essential parts of a good story.
    • Learn how to identify a target audience and tailor a message to that audience.
    • Practice telling their stories live.

Workshops will be held March 27 from 5:45-7 p.m. at the Brewer Hub, April 2 from noon-1:30 p.m. at the McMillon Studio, and on April 10 from 5-6:30 p.m. at the Brewer Hub.

  • Bootstrapping 101 – This workshop is intended for innovators who have validated an idea and need help getting it off the ground. Drawing from real-life case studies, this workshop will show how creatively pulling resources together can replace or supplement traditional financing. Attendees will:
    • Learn the principles of business viability (cost structure and revenue streams).
    • Learn how to identify and apply for grant funding.
    • Understand the value of interdisciplinary teams.

Workshop will be held April 3 from 5:45-7 p.m. at the Brewer Hub.

Additional entrepreneurial programs and services will also be available:

Speed Consulting – Individuals and teams working on a business or idea can bring their questions and get advice from a range of experienced consultants, in fields ranging from marketing to design to intellectual property, in one afternoon. Consultations will be held Feb. 20 from 2-4 p.m. at the Brewer Hub or on April 19 from 2- 4 p.m. at the McMillon Studio.

Speaker Series — Be inspired by intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs with a story to tell in an intimate, conversational setting.  Lectures are held April 17 and on May 1 from 5-6:30 p.m. at the McMillon Studio.

Faculty Bootcamp – Faculty interested in using innovation and entrepreneurship workshops in concert with their classes or programs can join this two-hour session for an overview of the content. Workshops will be held March 5 from noon-1:30 p.m. at the McMillon Studio and on March 6 from 4:30-6 p.m. at the Brewer Hub.

The Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub is located at 123 W. Mountain Street in Fayetteville. The McMillon Innovation Studio is located at 146 N. Harmon Avenue. 

All events require preregistration. To register for the workshops, visit oeiworkshops.eventbrite.com. For additional information, email mcmillon@walton.uark.edu or oei@uark.edu.

Movista Raises $12m to Further Leadership Position in Workforce Management Space

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is a press release from Movista Inc., a company founded by April Seggebruch (Walton College B.S.B.A. 2005) and Walton MBA 2008 and Stan Zylowski (Walton MBA 2008).)

Bentonville, Ark. September 26, 2018 – Movista Inc., the leader in cloud-based labor and workforce management software for retailers, manufacturers, and service providers, announced its $12 million Series A growth equity investment. Funds will be used to deliver new product features, enhance technology innovation, expand sales and marketing, bolster talent development, and evaluate strategic opportunities. The investment, among the largest ever in an Arkansas based software firm, is led by New York based Level Equity, a software focused growth specialist with $1.65 billion in assets under management.

Movista, which turned eight years old in May, pioneered the use of smart device applications for managing mobile workforces. Demand for smart device software in the workplace has more than doubled for three consecutive years, with Movista’s recurring revenues up more than 300% since 2015. More than forty retail-focused enterprise clients leverage their smart platform to manage employees and contractors. Movista expects over 200,000 retail workers to be working on a daily basis, via their software, by 2020.

“Our goal is to have one million daily users within five years,” said CEO and Co-Founder, Stan Zylowski, “We will leverage the capital from this investment to expand and augment our product set, build a best-in-class business development team and share our story nationally.” April Seggebruch, COO and Co-Founder, further explained how having fresh capital changes dynamics inside the firm. “For the first time since our inception as a bootstrapped business, we now have the freedom to push every technical limit and innovate dramatically. We have plans in place and within twelve months will be installing solutions that were unimaginable even a few years ago.”

“We have closely tracked the explosive growth of BYOD and dedicated smart device usage within the enterprise for years and proactively identified Movista early on as a leader in the space” said Ben Levin, Founder and Co-CEO of Level Equity, who has joined Movista’s board of directors as part of the financing. “Their history in the retail market, exceptional and capital efficient growth and passionate commitment to client success sets them apart. We share their vision for continuing to build a world class workforce and labor management software business for retailers, manufacturers, and service providers.”

About Movista: Based in Bentonville, AR, Movista is a provider of mobile-first, real-time, enterprise-grade technical solutions to the retail market. The company, founded in 2010, employs nearly sixty employees across six states and serves more than forty clients including retailers, manufacturers and service providers. To learn more about Movista, visit www.movista.com.