Anthony Herrera joined Furman in the summer of 2018 as the executive director of its new Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and finding the first seedling to water in the university’s already-sprouting startup garden was as simple as opening the door to his very empty office in Hipp Hall.
“We are a startup, and the startup is to develop and grow an institute that is focused on innovation and entrepreneurship for Furman,” Herrera said. “What that means is growing an entrepreneurship and innovation culture here on campus and ultimately contributing to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region.”
He hopes to take a big step in that direction this summer with the first summer business and entrepreneurship boot camp, which will run June 3-21. Open to any student who has completed at least his or her freshman year of college as well as college graduates who have been out of school for no longer than two years, it offers the chance to “master the foundations of business and fundamentals of entrepreneurship.”
More information about the boot camp, including how to apply, can be found here.
Making the camp unique, Herrera says, is a curriculum tailored to non-business majors.
“Ultimately students who come out of that certificate program will be equipped to not only be an entrepreneur and have the fundamentals and foundations to start their own entrepreneurship venture but also will be really effective intrapreneurs,” he said. “They’ll be very well equipped to go into an organization and help drive change and innovation.”
Herrera has walked the startup walk — he launched his own executive search firm — but wasn’t sure just how much from scratch the work would be at Furman. Turned out, in many ways the campus had begun without him.
“When I came here I wanted to do an assessment. Is there even an interest in entrepreneurship?” he said. “And what I’m finding is it is widely sought after. A lot of students are interested in it, a lot of staff.”
So interested that students had already founded a number of organizations dedicated to the cause, including inVenture, an entrepreneurship group, and the Furman Creative Collaborative, which is committed to fostering a creative culture.
On the staff side, art department chair Ross McClain’s students have been participating in CreateAthon, an annual nationwide campaign in which students have 24 hours to develop, design and implement a marketing campaign for a local nonprofit.
“(Entrepreneurship and innovation) weren’t coordinated by the university or championed by the university, but it was already in pockets around the university and really hidden,” Herrera said. “I’ve either adopted student organizations that are focused on innovation or helped come alongside and give some infrastructure for a new entrepreneurship club.”
Outside the gates, Herrera has worked to build ties with Greenville’s still-fledgling but rapidly growing startup community, partnering with NEXTand VentureSouth. NEXT’s mission statement in the Upstate echoes Herrera’s at Furman, while VentureSouth is one of the largest angel investment groups in the country.
Angel investors provide capital for business startups.
Furman’s reputation for a liberal arts education is well-established, but you don’t often hear Furman and startup culture in the same sentence. Contrary to perceptions, however, Herrera says Furman is perfectly poised to make a splash in that world.
“When people hear innovation and entrepreneurship, there’s this bias to always think tech. Silicon Valley, what’s the next Amazon/Google,” he said. “But entrepreneurship can be your family-owned businesses, franchise businesses, retail, restaurants. Innovation is advancing an idea. It’s problem-solving. It’s dealing with ambiguity, all these characteristics or themes that are taught and developed at a liberal arts university. That education model lends itself really well to innovation, so I think Furman’s well-positioned from the innovation standpoint to be a leader in developing innovative leaders.”
For more information on the Furman Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, visit its website.