St. Bonaventure University is looking for entrepreneurs to mold the next generation of innovative, out-of-the-box thinkers and help them find their niche in business and industry.
It’s part of efforts underway to build a solid foundation under the newly established St. Bonaventure Innovation Center.
“Right now I’m looking for mentors, innovators and entrepreneurs who want to be engaged, be a part of the center, so that when we hold our center’s launch and summit next fall we have a really robust program in place,” said Thomas Cullen, center director. “Engaging with our community and alumni is crucial to fulfilling our mission. If you’d like to be a part of this, we’d love to hear from you.”
Cullen, a 2000 graduate of St. Bonaventure, brings his own entrepreneurial expertise to the center. He returns to campus having spent the past 18 years in Chicago, where he started a high-speed trading firm and co-founded a software development consultant business. He now lives in his native Cattaraugus, New York, where he’s helping his family turn a historic building into a luxury boutique hotel.
The Innovation Center was created with a start-up pledge of $500,000 from Olean philanthropists Jim Stitt, executive chairman of the Cutco Corp. in Olean and a member of St. Bonaventure’s Board of Trustees, and his wife, Carol, former longtime executive director of the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation.
“Carol and I felt that the creation of an Innovation Center at St. Bonaventure University would give students from all majors the opportunity to learn, lead and serve,” Jim Stitt said. “Students' ideas are innovative and endless. They should have the opportunity to explore how to make their ideas a reality.”
Jamestown Community College and Olean Business Development Corp. are collaborating with St. Bonaventure in this endeavor, Stitt said, “which will bring a tremendous amount of support for the center. Our hope is that this program can be pivotal in the lives of so many.”
The center is up and running, but in the development stage, operating out of the university’s Swan Business Center.
Dr. Todd Palmer, associate professor of management, is the academic director for the center and hopes to have a proposed academic minor in place by fall semester of 2020, when the center plans to hold an official launch with a campus summit to bring together entrepreneurs, mentors and featured speakers.
The center is open to all, St. Bonaventure students and nonstudents alike, and it plans to offer academic and nonacademic opportunities, so one would not necessarily have to pursue the proposed academic minor.
Starting in the spring semester, the center will host Innovation Wednesdays, which will include workshops and speakers that will help entrepreneurs grow their business. It’s open to the entire community each Wednesday night.
“Our mission is to help grow purpose-driven innovators and entrepreneurs. We want to foster that entrepreneurial spirit in people so that when they go to work for a company they’re thinking in a more innovative way, taking ownership over what they’re doing,” said Cullen. It’s that entrepreneurial mindset that sends individuals in pursuit of their own business ventures, he said.
“The ‘purpose driven’ aspect of this is very important to what we’re doing,” Cullen added, noting the center’s work is grounded in the university’s Franciscan values of compassion, wisdom and integrity.
The center will help entrepreneurs “in whatever way is needed,” said Cullen. “A lot of it will be coaching on next steps: what to do, who to talk to; helping identify potential customers, helping identify and solve any problems. And if you need funding, we’ll help you navigate those waters, show you how funding works and how to get it.”
Students and others would be funneled into the center via periodically held campus “create-athons,” competitions in which potential start-ups would pitch their ideas, with the most promising earning prize money and center support. “Again, anybody can sign up for these,” said Cullen.
The Innovation Center has already held one such event, and is mentoring several students, including Jason Green, a junior from Ashville, N.C., who is pursuing a double major in computer science and cybersecurity, and trying to get a drone business off the ground.
Green, a tinkerer since he was a kid — he took apart his dad’s computer when he was 10 — has been building and racing drones since high school. He’s using artificial intelligence to develop a platform that will enable the average consumer to employ drones for automated task execution. One initial application would be for college admissions offices to provide live, on-demand, web-based campus tours.
For instance, a prospective college student would go to a college’s website, click to activate a camera-equipped drone docked in a charging station on campus, then watch a live, fly-over tour of campus on his computer monitor or cell phone.
“There are other applications for Jason’s idea and we’re helping and supporting him by coaching him from a business perspective,” said Cullen. That included sponsoring his entry in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s (EO) recent Global Student Entrepreneur Awards competition for students who own and operate a business.
“He didn’t place in the prize money, but it opened the door to another competition and startup accelerator that we think he has a good shot at winning,” said Cullen, who is president of the regional EO chapter.
The entrepreneurial spirit appeals to a growing number of young people, so such campus-based innovation centers are becoming more common, said Cullen.
“The program at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a school about the same size as Bonaventure, is three years old and has almost 300 students enrolled in the minor,” he said.
For now, Cullen is looking for mentors and working to get the St. Bonaventure Innovation Center on solid footing in anticipation of the official launch next fall.
“What I envision is that mentors would be available maybe twice a month, by video conferencing or in person on campus, to engage with students and others in the center. So where they live and work doesn’t matter,” said Cullen. “Then, once a year we’d invite them all to campus for a big entrepreneurial summit.”
Those interested in serving as mentors or assisting the St. Bonaventure Innovation Center in other ways may contact Cullen by email at email@example.com.
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University is a community committed to transforming the lives of our students inside and outside the classroom, inspiring in them a lifelong commitment to service and citizenship. In 2019, St. Bonaventure was named the #1 regional university value in New York and #2 in the North by U.S. News and World Report.
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