For the more than 100 students attending Freshman Innovation Immersion Aug. 30-31, their first taste of college was gaining an understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset. The students, who represented 41 different majors, learned how entrepreneurship can apply to any subject area.
Non-entrepreneurship majors ranged from actuarial science to neuroscience to social work and more.
“If I were to ever start a private clinic or gain a leadership role in a company, having an entrepreneurship background would really be helpful,” said first-year student Faith Her, a social work major who plans to minor in business.
During the annual program by the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship held at the Iversen Center for Faith, students collaborated in teams to come up with a business concept. They developed poster boards for their concepts, which they then pitched to volunteer mentors from the community as part of a pitch competition for prize money. Seventeen of the 29 volunteer mentors were St. Thomas alumni, while two of the volunteer mentors were current St. Thomas students.
First-year student Ayden Hammer was part of Her’s group, which came up with a concept called Tommie Tap. The team’s idea involved placing the functionality of St. Thomas ID cards into a bracelet, enabling students to conveniently access buildings and residence hall rooms.
“I enjoyed getting to meet new people [at Freshman Innovation Immersion], use my creative thinking and collaborate with teammates to make something cool,” Hammer said.
Sheneeta White, who started as the new associate dean of the Schulze School on July 1, was impressed by her first Freshman Innovation Immersion.
“The fact that we have drawn students from a variety of majors throughout the university, from the School of Engineering to the College of Arts and Sciences, makes this a wonderful experience for students to get started with this type of creative exercise before classes even start,” White said.
On the first day of the workshop, Professor Jay Ebben led an exercise titled “A Celebration of Failure,” designed to show students how terrible business ideas can be flipped to become good ones.
One team came up with the bad business idea of shoes that didn’t have soles, which the team evolved into a concept of shoes that have replaceable soles. Therefore, when the soles wear out, owners get to keep the same shoes.
“This year’s group of attendees was very enthusiastic and eager to share their ideas,” Ebben said.
The Tommie network drew many mentors who enjoyed the opportunity to advise the next generation of entrepreneurs. One mentor, Traction Capital Analyst Peyton Green, was encouraged to participate by the firm’s president, Brian Cox ’05.
“I enjoy mentorship, feel that I have a lot of value to add and get energy out of helping others work on their ideas,” Green said.
In an additional example of the Tommie network, Traction Capital also employs Tommies Cory Kaisersatt ’23 and Ellie Pigott ’23.
A focus on the common good was an integral part of the concept developed by first-year student and Red Wing, Minnesota, native Tabetha Bowes and her teammates Grace Olson, Braden Bjornson and Ty Sandell.
The team’s idea related to the issue of sediment flowing down the Mississippi River and getting caught in Lake Pepin. Their solution involved extracting sediment from Lake Pepin or other waterways facing a similar issue and transporting it to areas where the sediment could be used to prevent flooding or used for new real estate developments.
Bowes, who currently is undecided on her major, was glad that she attended Freshman Innovation Immersion.
“In any field of study, it’s important to think innovatively outside of the box, to go forward with a leap of faith and be confident in your ideas,” Bowes said.
Associate Dean White aims to infuse the entrepreneurial mindset throughout St. Thomas by connecting with more students and faculty across the university’s many schools and colleges.
“Entrepreneurship is the way in which one goes about solving a problem. It is a skill set that all students could find value in,” White said. “It’s important for students to know and understand that there is a process to developing an entrepreneurial mindset, there are methods and tools that can be used to spark innovation. People don’t necessarily wake up with a creative idea. There are steps that you can learn to improve your innovation and entrepreneurial skills. It’s fantastic that we can draw all these students to help them become the next innovators, entrepreneurs or even intrapreneurs.”