By Matthew Early
This past Wednesday, January 26, Tiffin undergrads with brains for business and aptitudes for innovation gathered for their first meeting of the minds session with instructors for one of the newest courses being offered on campus. However, this wasn’t just another run-of-the-mill class, and their mentors weren’t even TU professors! Well, not in the traditional sense…
What I’m referring to, of course is the first ever meeting for the new Tiffin Innovation Program, or TIP. In short, students who make it through the rigorous vetting process spend three months learning the ins and outs of entrepreneurship. The course covers everything from how to conceive and identify a good idea to its proper execution. This is an oversimplified explanation, as many steps go into this, such as the formation of a business model, identifying target markets and how to reach customers, figuring out acquisition costs, scaling and so much more. The overall goal of the initiative is to provide these young hopefuls with the tools and connections needed to bring their very real business ideas to life.
According to Ron Lonzo, TU’s Vice President for Strategic Innovation and faculty liaison for the program, consistency is key for success, both in this class and the real world.
“I believe that TIP will accomplish a couple of things. Starting a technology business or a company that is high growth is really all about the process,” says Ron. “By pushing and getting results on a week to week basis, it allows progress to be made. The next 90 days will allow the students in the program to experience – for real – the uncertainty, the successes and the failures in the process of taking an idea to implementation. I am personally excited to see the growth in the students and their ideas on a week to week basis.”
Just who is guiding these startup students? Their mentors happen to be seasoned industry professionals with years of experience under their belts – CEO’s, venture capitalists, business executives and the founders of very successful companies. Who better to coach budding entrepreneurs than those who were once in their shoes? At the classes’ conclusion, each team of student “sharks” will receive a certification in entrepreneurship from TU, and the winning group will be awarded both the startup funds for their endeavor, as well as the chance to continue collaboration with these mentors-turned-investors.
TU’s President, Dr. Lillian Schumacher and Ron Lonzo kicked off the evening with some opening remarks. The excitement on President Schumacher’s face was evident, even from behind the mask.
“I get chills just talking about this,” said President Schumacher. “As the leader of an institution, I believe in surrounding myself with other leaders and trusted people to advise me, some of whom are joining us tonight. It takes a village to nurture big ideas, and there is no shame in accepting help. The people we have lined up to help you are phenomenal, so please take advantage of their expertise tonight and in the coming months. I am so excited to see what you’ll be able to produce together.”
President Schumacher then went on to introduce Daniel Jameel, one of her aforementioned advisors and keynote speaker for the night, who Zoomed in on the conversation alongside the other industry experts. Daniel is a member of the Tiffin University Board of Trustees and the Founder / President of Ready Education, a leading student engagement platform serving over 350 colleges and universities in North America.
Daniel began by outlining exactly what enrolled students should expect in the coming weeks, utilizing a strategy that can only be described as tough love, but his message was clear – he’s honest because he cares.
“There won’t be any hand-holding in this program,” said Daniel. “Being anything other than completely honest would be doing a disservice to each of you and your hard work. You will be receiving regular, unfiltered criticism from me and the other instructors with the purpose of helping you succeed, not to hurt you. This is a safe place to make mistakes. Everybody does it, because we’re all naturally good at different things. All of you will get As on some projects and Fs on others. The key is identifying what your weak spots are and as President Schumacher said, surrounding yourself with those who can help you improve in these areas.”
The rest of the evening consisted of a Q&A session. Enrolled students asked each of the mentors about their own businesses, successes, failures and what they’ve learned after years spent as entrepreneurs. Questions about the program itself were also fielded, and the students left with a much better understanding of what will be expected of them, and though they seemed anxious about the road ahead (as anyone in their position would be), there was also a sense of excitement in the air. It was clear that Daniel’s words were still ringing in their ears, reminding them that the biggest rewards usually follow the hardest of workers.
“Success is achieved through a combination of hard work, intelligence and grit,” said Daniel, and I couldn’t agree more. It will be my pleasure to follow these bright students in the coming weeks as I continue my coverage, and I look forward to learning more about each of them, as well as what they have up their sleeves.