Leading the Way in Entrepreneurship

Forbes ranks Rollins No. 11 on its 2015 list of America’s Most Entrepreneurial Colleges.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

When it comes to training the next generation of business owners and innovators, Rollins College is in good standing among its peers. So says Forbes magazine, which ranks the school No. 11 on its Top 50 list of America’s Most Entrepreneurial Colleges for 2015.

A story in the August 17 edition details how liberal arts colleges are reinventing themselves as startup factories. In describing one of Rollins’ primary achievements, Forbes notes that “the College introduced a social entrepreneurship major in 2014, and over 200 students have enrolled since.”

Forbes based its rankings on the ratio of alumni and students who identify as founders and business owners compared to the school’s student body (undergraduate and graduate combined).

For Mary Conway Dato-on, associate professor of international business and director of Rollins’ Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub, the recognition further validates the College’s commitment to molding global citizens for responsible leadership.

“Entrepreneurship in general—and social entrepreneurship in particular—resonates with Rollins students, staff, and faculty as a way to enact transformative education using the guiding principle of innovation,” Conway Dato-on says. “Through various curricular and co-curricular experiences, students come face to face with real-life challenges that require them to think creatively and solve responsibly.”

Rollins also earned acclaim for its pioneering business culture in 2012, when the social entrepreneurship organization Ashoka U designated it a Changemaker Campus, the first among liberal arts institutions in the South and first among all colleges in Florida.

The College’s efforts at entrepreneurship reflect a larger trend taking place across Central Florida. In 2003, Walt Disney World, Orange County Government, and UCF co-founded the National Entrepreneur Center. More recently, the Boyd Foundation deemed Orlando the nation’s least expensive city to launch a business, and Forbes rated it among the “best cities for minority entrepreneurs” and one of “the next big boom towns in the U.S.”

At Rollins, budding entrepreneurs have a variety of resources to help them advance their goals, including:

The Department of Business & Social Entrepreneurship

Undergraduate students wanting to combine their education with their passion can develop skills to address critical social, cultural, and environmental challenges. Majors are offered in business management as well as social entrepreneurship and business.

“These courses are designed to infuse entrepreneurial thinking and actions that lead to innovations in the business and social sectors,” explains Cecilia McInnis-Bowers, professor of business and social entrepreneurship. “As a concept, entrepreneurship can and often does mean how to start a business. Our goal, however, is to ignite the moral and practical imaginations of students, giving them the mindsets and skill sets to create solutions.”

The Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hub

Formerly known as SESi (Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Initiative), this hands-on approach to learning allows students and faculty to gather and innovate for social change. It’s a campus-wide initiative that includes seminars, a speaker series, and community immersion opportunities.

“The Hub provides a place for students and faculty to gather and innovate for social change,” Conway Dato-on says. “Adding this physical space to the incredible programming we have on campus demonstrates how we work together to develop creative and sustainable solutions to our community’s problems. I invite everyone to visit The Hub in the International House on campus. Our door—like our minds—is always open to innovative problem solvers.”

The Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship

Part of the Crummer Graduate School of Business—and made up of faculty who have started, purchased, or run a successful business—the Center educates students and alumni while connecting them with advanced entrepreneurs.

“We’ve developed a learning community that emphasizes a personalized approach to entrepreneurial success,” says Cari Coats, the Center’s executive director. “Our programs, curriculum, and outreach help students and alumni with everything from advanced-level networking to launching what could become a multimillion-dollar corporation.”

Opportunities for Students and Alumni

Entrepreneurs at Rollins have access to a variety of programs and activities that include consulting projects, internships, CEO forums and roundtables, mentoring, a business accelerator, and Orlando Inc.’s Entrepreneur Academy. Rollins also hosts a weekly meeting of 1 Million Cups, which gives two local entrepreneurs an opportunity to present their startups to a diverse audience of mentors, advisors, and fellow business leaders.

Student clubs include Net Impact (dedicated to a more socially and environmentally sustainable world), ATHENA Powerlink (for female business owners), and the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, whose flagship programs consist of the $50,000 Rollins Venture Plan Challenge, Elevator Pitch Competition, and activities focused on Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Internationally, Rollins participates in the Global Links program (a cross-cultural exchange for female scholars), the Clinton Global Initiative University (dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing concerns), and the Hult Prize Challenge, which awards $1 million in startup funding for tackling issues faced by billions of people in need.