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Universities Unleash Students' "Inner Entrepreneur"

Johnetta Hardy, director of UB's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Johnetta Hardy, director of UB's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation - Steve Ruark
Johnetta Hardy is a woman on a mission. She believes there is an entrepreneur inside everyone and not just business students. She talks about the entrepreneurial skill set, which she thinks can be learned.

Hardy was named director of the University of Baltimore’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in August. With the backing of the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business Dean Darlene Smith, under whose aegis the center operates, she is expanding the center's workshops, adding more entrepreneurs on site to mentor students and making the center's programs accessible throughout the school.  
 
“Dean Smith wants to open the door to entrepreneurship,” says Hardy, a former small business owner herself.
 
The University of Baltimore (UB) is by no means alone in its effort to focus on entrepreneurship. Last fall, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County initiated a minor in interdisciplinary entrepreneurship although for several years it had been offering for-credit courses in entrepreneurship. Towson University’s College of Arts and Communication now has a course in entrepreneurship. Its College of Health Professionals is planning the same. Morgan State University started an entrepreneurship major in the business administration department this year. 
 
Entrepreneurship is the latest buzzword on local college campuses, thanks to the economy. Over the last 20 years, two-thirds of new jobs in the U.S. economy have come from new ventures and small businesses, says Morgan State University’s Rob Singh. The lesson has not been lost on students or colleges.
 
Students understand that they may either work for themselves or own a company, says Singh, a management professor and executive director of Morgan’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Strategy.
 
“For the university, we are meeting the needs of the market.”
 
That’s also the goal at UB. Two months into her new position, Hardy, a petite woman with a vivacious manner and boundless enthusiasm, sits in the conference room of her office in the UB business center and outlines her plans.
 
She’s enlarging the center’s entrepreneur-in-residence program, recruiting 15 to 20 people in the business and banking, marketing social media and venture capital communities who can coach students.
 
Hardy intends to make the UB center “the go-to place for students with ideas.” She has gotten off to a quick start.  
 
In September, she worked with Julie Lenzer Kirk of the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship to bring Startup Maryland’s Pitch Across Maryland Bus Tour and business pitch competition to UB.
 
The center offered “pitch counseling” to students throughout the school. To Hardy, the fact that 51 students campus-wide entered the competition is proof that encouragement can unlock one’s inner entrepreneur.
 
“There is a desire and a need” for the center’s expanded role, says Hardy, who believes that even if starting a business is the farthest thing from your mind, knowing what’s involved is a plus nonetheless.
 
The pitch competition was just the beginning. “My job is to meet the students where they are,” says Hardy, who on Nov. 12 will kick off a month-long promotion of entrepreneurship with a bazaar showcasing local businesses’ products and services.
 
By winter, UB will hold weekly lunchtime counseling sessions and monthly brainstorming meetings for students, faculty and  alumni. 

“We want people with expertise in a variety of fields,” she says of volunteers who will serve as student-mentors.
 
Also in the works is an expansion of the center’s workshops and services for small businesses. Hardy is partnering with the Maryland Small Business and Technology Development Center, a federal government agency that is housed in the same building as the UB center.
 
Singh is in the process of refocusing his center’s mission towards research and public policy, to serve as a resource for the business community and state agencies like the Maryland Technology Development Corp.
 
Morgan State’s Entrepreneurial Development and Assistance Center offers hands-on help, business plan competitions and outreach, like women’s conferences and summer camps for high school students.
 
The story is the same at UMBC where the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship, founded in 2000, has increased its activities for students. Business plan competitions, internships with local businesses, speakers’ series and small group get-togethers are all part of the mix, says Vivian Armor, center director.
 
The UMBC center also works with the faculty to integrate entrepreneurship into their courses. “Our emphasis is on making entrepreneurship interdisciplinary,” says Armor.
 
Likewise, Clay Hickson, executive director of TowsonGlobal Business Incubator, says Towson University is stepping up its entrepreneurship activities for students and faculty.
 
Within the past year, TowsonGlobal has been designated as the focal point for entrepreneurship at the Baltimore County school. Hickson’s responsibilities have expanded beyond managing the incubator to supporting entrepreneurial activities by students, faculty and staff, and to encouraging interaction among all three.
 
“It adds a level of prestige,” Hickson says of the entrepreneurship emphasis, “but it’s more about meeting the current educational demands.”

Barbara Pash is BmoreMedia's Innovation and Jobs News Editor and can be reached at innovationnews@bmoremedia.com. Pash writes for Maryland Life magazine and is a former contributing editor to MarylandReporter.com. 


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