Expanding the entrepreneurial vision

Endowed chairs Carter and Cornwall discuss the impact of the Schulze gift to entrepreneurship

It often begins with an inkling, swells to a passion, and when combined with knowledge and skill, emerges as the reality of a successful business. At other times it’s recognizing potential within an organization and developing plans for growth. This is the entrepreneurial spirit.

Richard M. Schulze understood the essence of the entrepreneur as he created and managed Best Buy technology and retail business. In February 2000, Richard M. and Sandra Schulze gave a gift of $50 million to St. Thomas’ Ever Press Forward capital campaign to strengthen the entrepreneurial programs, support the new School of Law and provide student financial aid through a $5 million challenge grant to the alumni Annual Fund. This gift will help the entrepreneurial programs ensure that when inspiration meets scholarship, students will find success.

"St. Thomas cares about growth. It cares about successful students," Schulze said. "By strengthening the quality of the programming, faculty development and future training, we can create a really comprehensive and rich education." Leading the entrepreneurial program into the next level of growth and opportunity will be St. Thomas faculty members Dr. Nancy Carter and Dr. Jeffrey Cornwall.

Carter, who joined St. Thomas in 1997, is the Richard M. Schulze Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship. She is the director of the M.B.A. Venture concentration (Entrepreneurship) and teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses. Carter is co-founder and serves on the executive committee of the Entrepreneurial Research Consortium, a cross national initiative involving nine countries studying business start-ups. Many of her research initiatives focus on the emergence of organizations with a special emphasis on women- and minority-owned initiatives.

"The Schulze gift is a reflection of our solid performance thus far," says Carter. "Our program already has demonstrated how well we prepare students for acquiring the skills to meet their goals." In the February/March 2001 issue of Success magazine, St. Thomas once again ranked in the top five "Best Business Schools for Entrepreneurs" in the United States.

Cornwall is the Sandra Schulze Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship and chair of the undergraduate Department of Entrepreneurship. The author of several articles and two books, Cornwall was co-founder, president and CEO of a group of start-up health care companies in North Carolina.

"The Schulze gift will allow us to develop cutting-edge program enhancements for our students," Cornwall said. "We want to develop a ‘living lab’ so students can have a place to start their business under the direction of trained faculty." The undergraduate Entrepreneurial Department has experienced exponential growth since its beginning in 1986, with enrollment exceeding 250 students this fall.

In addition to funding the endowed chairs, scholarships for students are one of the highest priorities for the entrepreneurial programs, say both Carter and Cornwall. Encouraging the most capable students to attend St. Thomas will boost the university’s credibility and reputation. Scholarships also will broaden opportunities for women and people of color.

Attracting internationally recognized faculty would greatly enhance the entrepreneurship program’s visibility, as well as provide students with a global perspective of the business. Accord-ing to Carter, that one-on-one mentoring of students by faculty, even after graduation, is one of the unique assets of the St. Thomas program. A diverse faculty, both professionally and culturally, enhances the educational experience of everyone involved.

Interdisciplinary learning will be a significant addition to the entrepreneurship curriculum. Cornwall team teaches in the Theology Department on morals, values and ethics in business to help students learn more about their future clients. These cross-disciplinary classes also teach business students the value of ethical practice as they meet challenges and make decisions in their professional careers. Carter relates a story of a recent theology graduate who experienced the interdisciplinary approach and started his own business of building log homes. The graduate appropriately named his business, Ascension Log Homes.

Both Carter and Cornwall hope to expand the curriculum to include a multitude of disciplines such as software, health care, education and engineering. Half of the venture marketing class is comprised of engineering students, demonstrating how entrepreneurial skills are versatile and beneficial to a variety of professional interests.

Within the next few years, a School of Entrepreneurship will emerge within the College of Business, providing even more opportunities for students and more visibility for this top-rated program. Carter believes the future of the program will broaden its focus to include both personal and professional aspirations that will evaluate, identify and find resources for students to reach their goals.

Both Carter and Cornwall agree that it’s the enthusiasm of students that ensures the success of this program. "I am in awe of and have a great deal of respect for our students. Many are working, have a family and are building a business. They are amazing," Carter said. She is proud to be an integral part of this growth opportunity and believes the quality of this program can directly impact the future of our economy. "The raw enthusiasm of our students is inspiring," says Cornwall. And with nearly a 100 percent job placement rate after graduation, students are excited to begin their careers with the knowledge that their St. Thomas education has prepared them to meet the future.

When asked what this donation means for him, personally, Richard Schulze replied, "I think — and I truly hope — it will make a difference." Carter and Cornwall believe it already has.