Cassidy Rose Garber’s first brush with entrepreneurship started as a side hustle. She loved music, grew up in musical theater, and hung around the bustling music scene around Florida’s Tampa Bay. Friends taught her to DJ, and she taught herself to produce her own music.
As an entrepreneurship major at University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business, Garber learned two important lessons: One, how to communicate professionally and with purpose in every contact. And two, your network is almost everything. You could be the best music producer in the world, but if you don’t know anyone, how are people going to hear it?
“Once I learned how to innovate that vision into a tangible venture that I could pursue, that’s when everything started to change for me. It went hand-in-hand with everything I was learning at school, and I was able to apply it to my music project,” she tells Poets&Quants.
Garber, who performs under the name Sacred Snow, started booking local shows in small bars and social parties. Then she started booking gigs in Tampa, Miami, and Daytona, and beyond. Shortly before graduating from USF in 2021, she signed with a national management company, Warpath Group, and started booking festivals outside of Florida. She released her first album, Cold Soul, this year which you can find on all the major platforms.
Her music is just one of a series of entrepreneurial ventures Garber is currently pursuing. She earned her yoga certification this summer and recently led her first class. She’s also organizing a community event, Sacred Session, for this fall that will feature live music, yoga, and a series of interactive workshops.
The Entrepreneurship and Innovation program at SFU helped Garber take all her crazy big ideas and navigate pathways to bring them into the world.
“I would say, at the USF St. Pete campus specifically, having the intimate classroom setting, smaller class sizes, more time with your professors face-to-face, really did make a difference,” Garber says. “It felt like I had a team rooting for me. The support system makes you feel like you’re welcomed and that they’re invested in you.”
UNDER THE RADAR
USF’s Center For Entrepreneurship was founded about 10 years ago. Its Entrepreneurship and Innovation major enrolls about 70 undergrads a year while its three minors enrolls about 250. Altogether, between all classes, its series of clubs and pitch competitions, and the USF Student Innovation Incubator, and other touch points, it reaches nearly 1,200 USF undergrads.
It has developed into a campus-wide partnership between the Muma College of Business and several other university colleges: USF Health, the College of Arts and Science, the College of Engineering, and the Patel College for Global Sustainability.
Since its founding, it has racked up an impressive list of milestones for a relatively small program. Bragging rights include:
- 80% of the most recent class had started a business or were generating revenue prior to graduation, and 100% were working within 90 days after graduation.
- The first graduate of the program, Reuben Pressman, secured a multi million dollar exit within five years of graduation. (Pressman founded Presence, a software platform for higher education institutions, in 2014.)
- Mayors of both Tampa and St. Petersburg have dedicated Entrepreneurship Days in honor of the program and to acknowledge the contributions its graduates have made to the area’s fast-growing economy.
Since 2007, it has been ranked as one of the top 25 entrepreneurship programs in the country. In both 2019 and 2020, the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine have ranked in the top 10.
“What I think really defines us is that we empower students to define the careers they want, not what others define for them,” says Stephen Diasio, clinical professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Muma. “This unleashes this agency to create new types of businesses and business models that they’re mashing up in ways that you can’t read about in a book.”
ENTREPRENEURSHIP AS A SPECTRUM
To state the obvious, the University of South Florida isn’t located in what we traditionally think of as an entrepreneurial hub. But, Florida has a history of speculation and innovation, building a vibrant business ecosystem up from the swampland.
St. Petersburg is the birthplace of Wikimedia – operator of the most-used website in the world – which helped democratize knowledge, Diasio notes. The first commercial air flight, which would usher in globalization, flew between St. Pete and Tampa in 1915. And Doc Webb invented the department store decades before Wal-mart was even a glimmer in Sam Walton’s eye. With a motto of “stack it high and sell it cheap,” the store grew to 77 departments and covered seven city blocks. Diasio argues Webb’s City is the precursor to the modern day department store and even to Amazon Prime.
“We’re not New York, we’re not Silicon Valley, and therefore we have a different vibe. It’s very different from anything I’ve experienced before,” says Diasio who has worked at acclaimed business schools with lots of funding and large entrepreneurial ecosystems – ESADE, Imperial, and the University of Chicago.
“We view entrepreneurship as more of a spectrum, with the traditional startup framework on one side and the innovators or corporate entrepreneur on the other,” he says.
On one end, it trains students to be corporate innovators, and its alumni are working at world-class companies like Amazon, Apple, and Facebook. On the other end, are students like Garber who are defining their own pathways to success.
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