Teaching would-be entrepreneurs at Florida Gulf Coast University revolves around a do-it-differently strategy.
After several years of preparation, Florida Gulf Coast University initiated entrepreneurial instruction in fall 2014. By fall 2016, it opened an incubator, the Runway Emerging Technology Institute. The university followed in fall 2017 by taking another big step: offering a major in entrepreneurship studies.
In doing so, FGCU did something only two other U.S. universities — Florida State and Drexel University in Philadelphia — have done. It created the program as its own entity, separate from the business college, and offered its curriculum to students in any FGCU college.
In addition to its independence, the program, under the name the Institute for Entrepreneurship, took a counterintuitive approach from the start. That includes incorporating nonbusiness faculty in the classes, and a learn-by-doing approach that emphasizes experience over classroom instruction.
Institute Director Sandra Kauanui, also an FGCU professor of management and entrepreneurship, studied the setup for other entrepreneurial degree programs at colleges of business around the country. Her conclusion: “Business schools are not always the most creative.”
Business schools, she says, need to get out more often. “If you get your education all in one area,” she adds, “it is hard to be innovative.”
Kauanui founded and guided a Norfolk, Va., investment and securities firm for 20 years. She sold it and entered academia at midlife, after she earned a doctorate from George Washington University.
Student reaction to the curriculum has been astounding, says Kauanui, former chair of business management instruction at FGCU's Lutgert College of Business. The bachelor program drew nearly 130 students in its fall launch. By graduation, they will take eight or nine courses that are purely entrepreneurial, Kauanui says. She says another 160 students are pursuing a minor in entrepreneurship. The minor has grown to be the university's largest — four years after inception.
Also, Kauanui and Entrepreneur in Residence Mark Bole, former owner of a Luxembourg investment firm, spend a large part of each week with students at the Runway Emerging Technology Institute incubator, joined by about 60 mentors from the community. “They have been successful” and want to help students do the same, Kauanui says.
While teaching entrepreneurs remains the overall goal, Kauanui recognizes the school and its programs can accomplish a secondary, albeit crucial, objective: reversing brain drain, where young people grow up in the region, go to school here and leave for better opportunities. The program's students, she says “are so bright and so capable.”
The Runway Emerging Technology Institute, the business incubator arm of the Institute for Entrepreneurship at Florida Gulf Coast University, is off to a strong start. The university used grant money to set up the incubator in 2016, and money for student business competitions comes from business and civic contributors.
Two recent examples of the Runway's success comes from FGCU seniors Katlyn Sullivan, a biotechnology major, and Alainah Haker, a biology major. The pair impressed judges Jan. 20 in FGCU's Runway startup competition: Sullivan was awarded $10,000, while Hacker received $12,000.
Sullivan's software product stems from necessity. When she encountered confusing, and often erroneous, information in applying to medical school, she decided it was time to act. Students seeking law school and other professional post-graduate admissions encounter similar obstacles, she says. “I spent hundreds of hours gathering this information,” Sullivan notes.
The $10,000 from her Runway award will go toward developing software outlining each step in the admissions process for specific institutions, including requirements and details on tests and timetables for accomplishing each step. Sullivan intends to sell the software to colleges.
Haker will market a device and app through her company, Accugentix, to help medical patients measure and track use of CBD oil, a hemp derivative without the THC that gives marijuana users a high. The device precisely measures the dosage and reports it to the app for the patient to track, he says.
She will start with anxiety sufferers and later adjust the device to gauge correct usage for epilepsy, Parkinson's and other afflictions. Dosage accuracy, she says, is vital. “When they start taking too much, their seizures or tremors come back,” says Haker. “I'm helping them fight it by finding the sweet spot for their dosages.”