Cities and universities need one another. Cities provide culture, entertainment, and professional opportunities for college students. Universities bring youth, talent, and economic impact to communities all across America. In short, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

 

Innovation and entrepreneurship is increasingly at the heart of this relationship. In three of the Upstate’s most vibrant cities, Greenville, Spartanburg and Clemson, universities are putting more of an emphasis on entrepreneurship than ever. Furman’s Anthony Herrera, Wofford’s Tyler Senecal, and Clemson’s Shontavia Johnson lead teams focused on “finding resources, developing strategic partnerships, and building out all of the key elements (programming, community, access to funding, physical space, connections, etc) that would-be-entrepreneurs need to succeed, and connecting them in a meaningful way,” explained Senecal. 

Herrera elaborated on the importance of these efforts, saying “now more than ever, innovation is critical to our society’s progress.” As Johnson puts it, experiences in entrepreneurship “prepare students to lead us into a dynamic future across all industries.” For that reason, Herrera believes that “the university needs to collaborate and partner with the community in creating innovative ventures to solve our greatest challenges.” In short, innovation is the future and “organizations focused on innovation excellence are preparing to be relevant tomorrow,” said Herrera.

Participants in Furman’s first Paladin Pitch Competition. Photo courtesy of Anthony Herrera.

Senecal echoed Herrera’s sentiment, emphasizing that universities “have a responsibility to develop innovative thinkers and creative problem-solvers.” Moreover, he explained, an education that emphasizes innovation and entrepreneurship is in demand now. Citing a study on Gen Y career interests, Senecal said that data suggests that as many as “64% of college students want to be entrepreneurs someday.” Herrera cited similar stats, suggesting that the University’s primary customer, high school students, are “interested in studying innovation and entrepreneurship to the tune of 60-70%.” 

Wofford’s 3rd Terrier Challenge. Photo courtesy of Tyler Senecal.

Clearly, then, alongside civic and corporate partners, the campus has a critical role to play in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. As Senecal sees it, “colleges and universities have to play an important role if we want that future to be the best it can be.” For Johnson, that means, facilitating “close collaboration among and between stakeholders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.” In particular, Herrera highlighted, universities must “avail critical resources (talent, research, global network, and physical space (incubators/labs) for the ecosystem.” 

Herrera feels that Furman is especially well placed to play this role, “as a liberal arts institution, we develop students who possess a global awareness, strong problem solving, communication, and creative skills. All key skills for an innovative leader.” In short, “innovation is in our DNA,” he explained. The same can certainly be said about Wofford. As an R1 research university, Johnson explains that one of Clemson’s strengths is “producing innovation and technology that positively impacts the collective well-being of the community.” 

Winners of the Clemson Enterprize Award 2019 Competition. Photo courtesy of Clemson Newsstand.

Today, Furman, Wofford and Clemson are taking advantage of their unique positions in a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem by championing innovation and entrepreneurship on their respective campuses. All have annual pitch competitions that help students to launch ventures, partner with local organizations such as 1 Million Cups and NEXT, and host community events that bring people together to celebrate innovative ideas. Senecal says “we are just getting started and our value to the community will evolve over time as the ecosystem continues to develop.” Herrera agrees, saying “big things are on the horizon for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Furman.”

Furman, Wofford, and Clemson’s efforts in innovation and entrepreneurship are already making a difference, and they promise to bear a meaningful impact on the Upstate’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in the long-term. Their success is the community’s success. 

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Article by Evan Myers, Communications Intern

NEXT is an economic development organization born out of the Greenville Chamber. For more information, visit https://nextsc.org/