Every Wednesday night, the Willes Center for International Entrepreneurship faculty gathers with students in the Heber J. Grant building for project nights to offer students with business ideas support, mentorship, and opportunities, said Willes Center Academic Director Jason Earl.
David Waite, Willes Center projects advisor and assistant professor in accounting, said, “The ultimate purpose of the Willes Center is to help students get entrepreneurial skills. Whether you are [studying] biology, music, science, or accounting, you can come to the Willes Center and learn how to manage risk and start a business or even step into a job and be more proactive.”
With varying opinions of entrepreneurship, the faculty said they hope to remove any negative perceptions by aligning the goals of the center with the mission of the school. Earl said, “We focus on helping students learn how to live a life of meaning. We need to bring students together who are good, passionate, and generate sustainability.”
The projects are organized into four different business models: product-based, service-based, nonprofit, and social entrepreneurship. Depending on which category a business idea fits into, student entrepreneurs are provided with different structural focus and assistance.
With the recent student accomplishments at the Great Ideas and Empower Your Dreams competition, faculty members said they noticed that few of the students who competed reached out to professors.
Waite said Wednesday nights used to be focused on the social entrepreneurship organization Enactus. “Enactus has been the brand of the Willes Center for years, and we are grateful for that,” he said. “But with this Willes Center project group, we are trying to show that this isn’t just about social entrepreneurship. This is for products, services, nonprofits, and social ventures. If you have an idea, come to us.”
Earl said, “With these new resources in place, students will be able to pitch their business ideas to professors and students, receive feedback, get assistance with organizational structure, connect with investors, compete in entrepreneurship competitions, and more.”
Katherine Christensen, a junior TESOL major from Idaho and Enactus President, said her involvement with the Willes Center and Enactus has been beneficial for her business ventures. “[We] are living the mission of the school. These projects are apart of you. When you graduate, it’s in hopes that you are so passionate you can’t sleep without thinking about it. You love doing it,” she said.
Currently, the Willes Center faculty said they are preparing for the Great Ideas Competition, an opportunity for students to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges through a video presentation for a chance to win prize money. The training sessions for the competition have begun, and the faculty said they hope students will recognize the valuable resources available through the competition.