How do you teach entrepreneurship?
Action, interaction and iteration.
So you see a market need and you want to start a business - something different to meet the market need. How do you learn about being an entrepreneur?
Justin Webb, Belk Distinguished Professor of Business Innovation, has answers.
“First, entrepreneurship is not a linear path. You have to go out and talk to prospective customers. You have to go out and talk to potential suppliers. You have to go out and talk to other entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is something you have to DO. You have to act,” Webb says.
Entrepreneurship and innovation are at the heart of the teaching and research of many areas of UNC Charlotte, and especially the Belk College of Business. That’s expected from a business school, but the unexpected is the many UNC Charlotte alumni who are entrepreneurs, and the growth of UNC Charlotte in the area of training the next generation of entrepreneurs.
“Despite the many successes we have in Charlotte, entrepreneurship is still an uncertain path. It’s highly risky. There’s a high failure rate. My job is to educate our students so that they can do perhaps less learning on the job, and if they do have to learn as they go, hopefully they can learn more efficiently,” Webb said.
As the Belk Distinguished Professor of Business Innovation, Webb came to UNC Charlotte in 2014 as part of a $5 million gift from Belk, Inc. to the Belk College of Business to boost entrepreneurialism and innovation. He and other faculty in the Belk College are helping to educate next-gen entrepreneurs and business leaders.
“As faculty members, we try to give students the experiences so that they can take action and actually experience entrepreneurship. Students develop specific competencies including opportunity recognition, alertness, vision, creative problem solving, and risk taking - very specific skills entrepreneurs have to succeed,” Webb said.
Why is this important to Webb and other faculty? “Entrepreneurship serves as a catalyst for innovations to enhance quality of life and economic development. In that way, entrepreneurship and innovation drive economic development,” Webb said.
This fall, Webb launched Entrepreneurial Decisions, a class open to all UNC Charlotte undergraduate and graduate students and also a public speaker series. Currently, the class has 36 enrolled students, about half undergraduate and half graduate students. Each week in the class, entrepreneurs from the Charlotte region discuss the decisions they made, such as how they acquired the right amount and type of capital at the right time, how they handled gender and race-related challenges, and how they overcame obstacles, etc. The class has been open for four public sessions as well, including one coming up Dec. 5.
Leading entrepreneurs from the Charlotte community are speakers in the course, including UNC Charlotte alumni Bryan Delaney (Skookum), Calvin Brock (Jack and Landlords), Manuel Zapata (Zapata, Inc.), Kirk Beatty (Datatech), DeAndrea Salvador (RETI), Chris Moxley (704 Shop ), Larry Griffin (Griffin Brothers), Keith Haskett (Rebyc Security), and Derek Wang (Stratifyd).
In all, more than 30 Charlotte entrepreneurs are giving their time and wisdom to UNC Charlotte students this fall.
Webb is part of a growing number of faculty in the Belk College of Business and across campus teaching and researching entrepreneurship.
“When working with students, I try to provide a lot of feedback: ‘Well, what about this perspective? But it looks like you are making progress in this direction.’ It’s an iterative process, and students have to be willing to make adjustments along the way,” Webb said.
There are many examples of students who are entrepreneurs, from Webb’s class and in other classes offered throughout the college, from management to marketing to the top-ranked MBA program.
MBA student at night, entrepreneur every minute
MBA student James Rivenbark has been an entrepreneur for years. After graduating from UNC Charlotte with his bachelor’s degree, he worked in financial advising for some years and had the opportunity to purchase a restaurant. That endeavor was a lesson that led him to further businesses and to pursue entrepreneurship full time. His latest ventures include serving as CEO of two restaurants launching this summer - one in Indian Land and one in Fort Mill - as well as a paint company, where he serves as CFO. Rivenbark said the MBA program at UNC Charlotte has been invaluable - especially to develop a well-rounded business acumen for operations, ethics, marketing and all of the aspects required for business.
“My courses have helped me to plan my businesses. In my ethics class, I’m writing information that will be part of my employee handbook. In my financial classes, I’m learning how to scale my businesses. And the program is helping to build my network, which can never be too big,” he said.
Read more about Rivenbark's entrepreneurial effort in the Charlotte Business Journal.
Marketing major and fashion entrepreneur
Jamari Thorne is a marketing major who has founded a clothing brand called The Freedmen Collection, which upcycles fashion items. The name was inspired by The Freedmen’s Bureau, an organization that helped assist newly freed slaves by providing medical aid, food, housing, and even legal assistance.
“I am currently taking marketing innovations with Dr. Charles Bodkin, and so far I have learned so many strategies that I can apply to my current business, as well as any business that I will start in the future. Marketing segmentation and consumer analysis are also some major topics that my business team and I cover daily,” Thorne said.
International interest + passion for pets
Emily Kidd is majoring in international business and has her own business, Paws Up Pet Sitting. She has been a professional pet sitter since 2015, and launched her business in July 2018, providing in-home pet sitting services to clients throughout Charlotte. She shares the website for 704 Pet Sitting with another entrepreneur.
“Entrepreneurship is important because it allows you to challenge yourself to see how much you can grow as a person...With entrepreneurship, a lot of people can find happiness while generating a steady income,” she said.
Kidd transferred from CPCC. At CPCC, she was able to study abroad twice: first to China and second to Brazil - and has continued her study of Portuguese at UNC Charlotte.
“While studying abroad, I realized how much I love to travel while learning and engaging in the culture. International Business allows me to take my natural business abilities and combine them with exploring new places. I was drawn to the International Business program at UNC Charlotte because of the courses offered,” she said.
“My career goal is to continue to grow Paws Up Pet Sitting. I would love to live and work abroad in the next few years. It would be ideal to start a pet sitting business abroad where it isn't as common or maybe nonexistent. Animals mean the world to me, so wherever I end up, it will be involved with animals in one way or another,” she said.
Though Kidd is not currently enrolled in Entrepreneurial Decisions, she has attended some of the talks.
“The most beneficial aspect of the course was being able to listen to business leaders throughout the Charlotte area talk about their successes, failures, and give advice. Some of these entrepreneurs started with nothing. They were able to provide resources to budding entrepreneurs to help us grow and think a little differently. I felt my mind opened to things I would never have thought to consider, especially regarding failure,” Kidd said.
“I think every student should take at least one class in entrepreneurship. It applies to all students whether they want to be their own boss or not. It helps generate ideas that are beneficial to individuals and teams inside and outside of the workplace,” Kidd said.
Entrepreneurship in the Belk College of Business
The Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte is North Carolina’s urban research business school. Accredited by AACSB International, the Belk College of Business offers outstanding business education at the undergraduate and graduate levels, along with executive education. With more than 4,800 students, almost 100 full-time faculty and more than 30,000 alumni, the Belk College of Business is one of the Carolinas' largest business schools.
“The Belk College educates students to become leaders who are critical thinkers, ethically informed and globally aware. The Belk College engages in research that fosters innovative business theory, policy and practice. Encouraging intellectual curiosity, advancing knowledge and promoting innovation are among key values. As such, entrepreneurship is a foundational business skill that is woven into programs, courses and departments,” Dean Ott.
Learn more about Entrepreneurship in the Belk College of Business