The prospect of teaching 62% more participants with 100% less in-person interaction had Anthony Herrera feeling a bit of trepidation when the 2020 Live Virtual Summer Business and Entrepreneurship Boot Camp began on June 8. Turned out, those fears were unfounded.
“I came into it a little worried how well is this going to go,” Herrera, executive director of Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said. “And after the first day I was already confident. You would have thought my team had been delivering virtual learnings for 10 years.”
The second iteration of the annual three-week camp, designed to give non-business majors the chance to master the foundations of business and the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, saw a jump from 16 to 42 participants. It also saw the closure of the Furman campus thanks to the novel COVID-19 pandemic, meaning Herrera and his team had to pivot quickly and effectively to a new reality that included some very intentional language.
“I like to make this distinction between virtual and online learning,” Herrera said. “People have this preconceived idea that online learning is recorded, it’s boring, there’s no intimacy or connection. We made it a point to call this a live virtual boot camp. People are getting faculty live. Mentors live. Speakers live. And the feedback we’re receiving is just phenomenal about just how transformational this experience this was.”
Offering the boot camp virtually in some ways actually created more opportunities for engagement, he discovered.
“You’re kind of limited with the faculty, mentors and speakers you can get to show up in person, but now that it was virtual, the sky was the limit. If we had an interest in a speaker or a topic, we could go after them because we were only asking for 30 or 40 minutes of their time to get online,” Herrera said. “So we had top authors, recruiters from some of the top organizations in the world and many of our alums from across the country.”
In all, the camp’s 52 sessions and 90 instructional hours featured 42 mentors, 14 faculty representing multiple departments and 15 guest speakers, culminating with a June 26 graduation ceremony headlined by keynote speaker Ford Blakely ’97. Blakely is the founder and former CEO of Zingle, a software company that enables businesses to communicate with customers through text messaging.
Speaking from his home in San Diego, Blakely, who majored in business and accounting, told the graduates that he was an average student who learned to turn classroom struggles into an advantage.
“School didn’t come easy to me. It really didn’t,” Blakely said. “And I came to the realization that since I wasn’t great at school, I needed to be greater at preparation … I figured out the need to leverage this weakness into my biggest strength. There are people naturally more gifted at sales, naturally more gifted at software, than me, but there is nobody who will out prepare me.”
Blakely said the idea for Zingle, which was recently acquired by Medallia, came from waiting in line for a cup of coffee every morning before work. He abandoned a successful career as a financial consultant to bring it to life.
“There are several myths that the vision of an entrepreneur is either Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk,” he said. “These are entrepreneurs that grab the headlines, but I actually read a statistic that 60% of the entrepreneurs out there are between the ages of 40 and 60 years old, which tells me that becoming an entrepreneur is more of a journey.”
Though current and former Furman students made up the majority of the 42 graduates, a total of 10 colleges or universities were represented. For Queen Trapp ’22, a psychology and women’s gender and sexuality studies double major, the boot camp represented another step toward bringing Mother Nature’s Gift, an idea she’s had since middle school, to life.
“I feel like I learned so much. Honestly, business was kind of intimidating so I had never envisioned myself even exploring it,” Trapp, who was awarded third place at Innovation Hour in the fall and was a finalist at February’s Paladin Pitch Competition, said. “Through this boot camp, we have been able to do finance and marketing and get in depth about topics I never would have willingly gone and studied. I really appreciate the effort they put into choosing speakers that have a wide range of experiences.”
For more information, visit the Innovation and Entrepreneurship website.