New Institute at Hollins Emphasizes Entrepreneurial Learning Across Disciplines

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Hollins University is collaborating with Roanoke Valley innovators and an international venture development company to launch new opportunities devoted to entrepreneurship.

The Institute for Entrepreneurial Learning (IEL) at Hollins University will foster creative and innovative thinking and provide students with the resources needed to develop an entrepreneurial outlook across all disciplines, including the social sciences, business, humanities, fine arts, and STEM.

According to Hollins President Pareena Lawrence, IEL reflects the vision articulated in Hollins’ strategic plan, which will guide the university from 2019 – 2024. “We seek to create a vibrant and inclusive global community that prepares and challenges our students to learn holistically across traditional boundaries with innovative curricular and co-curricular opportunities,” she states. “IEL will support this vision with an emphasis on bringing ideas and theory to action.”

Professor of Practice Karen Messer-Bourgoin, a member of Hollins’ class of 1984, will serve as the institute’s inaugural director. Messer-Bourgoin returned to Hollins in 2017 to impart her extensive business experience from Wall Street to Main Street to the classroom.

“IEL will provide both theoretical and practical learning experiences for students to ‘see’ gaps, opportunities, and spaces to do things differently, to think creatively about ways to fill those gaps and spaces, and to move from ideas to new services, products, and processes,” she says. “Our approach is grounded in the liberal arts and takes full advantage of our emphasis on critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and the interconnectedness of disciplines. It gives students opportunities to transform ideas into innovations and solutions that are viable in today’s fourth industrial revolution.”

One of the distinguishing attributes of IEL is that students in all majors and minors at Hollins can take advantage of professional alliances within the Roanoke Valley’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Advancement Foundation, Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, RAMP (Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program), Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, and Roanoke Regional Small Business Development Center are among the organizations participating.

In addition, IEL is partnering with prehype, a product innovation firm with offices in New York City, London, Copenhagen, and Rio de Janeiro. “prehype is composed of an incredibly smart team of entrepreneurs with a muscular ad-hoc network of accessible talent,” The New Web reports, while Media Shift notes that the company “brings the creativity and exhilaration of a startup venture into big company structures.” Hollins is receiving an unlimited license for prehype’s Applied Entrepreneurship course and course materials, which will include proprietary sessions covering opportunity identification, problem reframing, signal mining, and other current and relevant topics. The course will be team-taught by prehype staff and Hollins faculty. In addition, up to 10 students each year will have access to prehype’s New York City office for a January Short Term class experience/internship.

“IEL’s resources provide a foundational knowledge in the field of innovation and serve to connect students and faculty to external entrepreneurial experiences and mentors,” says Patricia Hammer, vice president for academic affairs at Hollins. “Other exciting components that we’re developing are possibilities for learning from entrepreneurs across industries in Bangalore, India, and a partnership with Ahmedabad University in India, which will provide new opportunities for our faculty and students in the fields of leadership, entrepreneurship, and innovative thinking, among others.”

Hammer explains that one of the goals of IEL’s first year will be to “raise the profile and awareness of entrepreneurial learning in our campus community as an innovative mindset. There will be applications across our curriculum working collaboratively with our Batten Leadership Institute, Career Center, and other key academic and administrative departments.”