Under The Radar: New Pathways To Success Through South Florida’s Entrepreneurship Program

Muma College of Business entrepreneurship students participate in StartupBus Florida, a competition for the state’s best and brightest tech innovators and entrepreneurs. Courtesy photo

THE SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR

Amelia Bartlett was a non-traditional undergrad, graduating from USF this May at the age of 29. She grew up in St. Petersburg and enrolled in community college because it’s what she could afford. When she enrolled in USF in 2015, she was an independent student who didn’t qualify for financial aid, and the value of the in-state tuition made a degree attainable.

She majored in the school’s entrepreneurship program when it was just a couple years old. She joined the Entrepreneurship Club, attended pitch competitions, sat through workshops on polarity thinking and classes on creative problem solving. She left college twice, to start businesses.

“I’ve met people who went to Babson. I’ve met people who went to NYU, Berkeley, Stanford, all these amazing schools. And I’ve started, failed, exited, and sold more businesses than all of them combined,” says Bartlett who is now working on a venture to bring movie production into east Tennessee.

“That’s by having teachers who are willing to make personal connections, who are bringing entrepreneurs into the classroom, and who are bringing real-world problems and saying, ‘Here’s a way to look at solving that problem.’ We don’t just learn how to build businesses to get VC funding. The program at USF finds the anomaly in all students, excavates it, and helps them learn to love and nurture it.”

CREATING UNIQUE PATHS TO ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Diasio says the SFU entrepreneurship and innovation program stands out from similar programs because they start with the assumption that students are talented and have unique skills. “And it is through those skills that they focus and create a business around them and what they are interested in.”

Take, for example, MC Swim, a line of swimwear for women designed with a Gulfcoast flare created by a USF graduate named Megan. Seeing a lack of representation in the retail market, she taught herself to sew, source unique fabrics, and designed a reversible, seamless, 100% customizable bikini with a St. Pete vibe. She launched MC Swim in 2015.

University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business

Or Girl Gone Green’s Manuela Barón, a USF alum with a passion for sustainability and the minimalist lifestyle. After amassing a huge following on YouTube, she leveraged her personal brand to be named a “Model for Sustainability Activism” for hola.com and is now an ambassador for Merrell shoe company.

Or Oscar Del Rio, a USF entrepreneurship major who will graduate this fall. He is currently working to buy his first pair of investment properties in Tampa Bay and hopes to build a larger portfolio that will provide him a steady stream of passive income. His No. 1 goal in life is to be self employed.

“I want to build a business with my own hands, something that I can be proud of. Although getting this Entrepreneurship degree won’t make me an Entrepreneur, it will certainly give me the skills, tools and connections necessary to get to that point,” he says.

The entrepreneurship major has all the traditionally foundational lessons, from scalability, to cash flow, to how to secure funding from investors. But it goes beyond that. In fact, one of the most valuable lessons for Del Rio is the importance of doing research and the impact it can have on bringing your innovation to market.

“There are courses that challenge your thinking, that make you think deeper, that don’t necessarily have right or wrong answers,” he says. “Entrepreneurship is a long road of failures and small wins. Pushing through those failures, and working to correct them is what will end up getting you from trying to be an Entrepreneur, to succeeding at being one.”

PUNCHING ABOVE ITS WEIGHT

None of these students had the traditional pathways that led to their success, Diasio says. What they did have is the agency to create their own business models, platforms, and paths. That’s what the USF Entrepreneurship and Innovation program is about.

“We are not trying to build a cookie-cutter model of entrepreneurship education. We are empowering students to follow their own ambitions and journey in life,” he says.

He says the program is unique from other such entrepreneurship and innovation programs in three ways: First, it takes is rich offering of in-person experiences such as bootcamps, intensive programming, pitch contests, hackathons, design challenges and more, and combines them with a robust online community of business leaders. Next, all students work on at least one innovation challenge and with a client for a local business challenge. And, finally, the curriculum is built around creative problem solving and design thinking. Courses run as sprints, quickly advancing through the innovation process to equip students with tools to compete above their weight class.

“We are not located in a hub stacked with traditional funding sources and deep networks,” Diasio says. “And yet the graduates from our program are making significant contributions to the transformation of the region by fueling economic development.”

Under The Radar is a periodic series highlighting the hidden gems, best-kept secrets, and innovative programs in undergraduate business education.

Read previous installments “Horn Entrepreneurship: Giving Silicon Valley A Run For Its Money” and “At Bucknell’s Freeman College, A Fruitful Marriage Of Business & Liberal Arts.”