It wasn’t until this past year, her senior year, at Bryant University, that Melissa Ellard decided to take an elective in the school’s Global Entrepreneurship Program. She got more than some credit-hours from the choice.
As the 22-year-old Foxboro, Mass., resident finished off her bachelor’s degree in marketing, she created Fashion Force, which launches sometime in the next few months. Fashion Force is an online business platform that helps connect fashion designers and retailers, bypassing trade shows, an industry staple, and it was a finalist in the 2013 Rhode Island Business Plan Competition.
“I got hooked [on entrepreneurship],” said Ellard. “I just love learning and challenging myself and helping others with my platform and seeing how I can help change how the industry operates.”
At Bryant, Brown University and Johnson & Wales University, students are seeking out established curriculum-based entrepreneurship programs, and launching startups and careers they had even not imagined when they first enrolled.
And as these three universities enhance well-established entrepreneurship offerings, some other schools, including Providence College, Rhode Island College, the Rhode Island School of Design and Roger Williams University are developing coursework or clubs, and even beginning to network across campuses.
At Bryant, anywhere from 30 to 50 undergraduates work in teams during the academic year “trying to launch a dream,” said Sandra Potter, the director of the Global Entrepreneurship Program. That dream may start with brainstorming in class or it may be part of a required project, or even outside of the classroom. Teamwork is emphasized because rarely in industry will a person spend a career as a solo contributor, she said.
“Some of them are concentrating in entrepreneurship,” Potter said, “but it’s also common for someone to show up at my door that is not in the program and knows we have an incubator called Bryant Ventures and wants to join and learn.”
Last year, there was an increase in the number of freshmen expressing interest in entrepreneurship and innovation when arriving on campus, Potter said.