Through Summer Internships, ELI Students Get Down to Business

 

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was still a busy summer for many at Hollins. The university’s Entrepreneurial Learning Institute (ELI) completed its first-ever summer internship program, which offered four Hollins students unique opportunities to work with local Roanoke businesses and startups, nationally respected entrepreneurs, and even a Hollins alumna.

 

 

Zahin Mahbuba '23
Zahin Mahbuba ’23

Zahin Mahbuba ’23 interned with a new startup called Learning Pods that, in response to COVID’s impact on educational institutions, provides safe and high-quality learning spaces for small groups (or “pods”) of elementary-level children at home or in the backyard. During this internship, Mahbuba collaborated with Stacey Seltzer, a respected New York entrepreneur and one of Learning Pods’ advisors. Seltzer is also co-founder of the Hudson Lab School, which was featured in The New York Times this summer for its own learning pod offerings. “I met Stacey through the Entrepreneurship class (BUS 330) at Hollins,” recalled Mahbuba. “The people that I had the opportunity to work with were such an inspiration. They made me feel so welcome and valued all of my ideas and contributions. I think what I loved the most was how they trusted me with the work and let me produce results.”

Even though her internship was entirely online, Mahbuba said that she learned a lot from her work: contacting families, scheduling times for them to meet with Learning Pod, and building teachers’ profiles for new teaching positions. “I got to experience what it takes to build an educational system during unprecedented times,” said Mahbuba. “This [internship] helped better my professionalism as I got to work with high caliber individuals who are global innovators and entrepreneurs.”

Chanmolis Mout '23
Chanmolis Mout ’23

Chanmolis Mout ’23 was very excited to work with a Hollins alumna and the CEO and Founder of Flewid Capital, Elizabeth Jose ’12. Headquartered in Roanoke, Flewid Capital is a promising startup with the goal of one day creating the largest international community market where users can transfer money affordably, quickly, and securely, even without internet access. Some of Mout’s internship responsibilities included sending out surveys to determine how much people spend transferring their money from one location to another. “Working with Elizabeth was an amazing experience,” said Mout. “On top of having all the great qualities as a leader and founder, she is very patient and understanding. I’m really looking forward to working with the team again in the future.”

Grace Davis '21
Grace Davis ’21

 

Similarly, Grace Davis ’21 honed her business skills working with long-time entrepreneurial powerhouse and Virginia Tech graduate Mary Miller, who serves as the director of Roanoke’s Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program (RAMP), which helps launch regional startups and create new jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“The experiences and knowledge that I gained during this internship was much more than I could’ve hoped for,” said Davis. “This real-world application was thrilling, because by dealing with a living and breathing company, you learn the urgency and immediacy of the start-up world.”

Soha Munir '23
Soha Munir ’23

 

 

As for Soha Munir ’23, she was impressed that her internship allowed her to utilize different aspects of her Hollins education. Working on website development with Sara Snider, CEO at BEAM Diagnostics, a Roanoke-based start-up that applies advanced behavioral economics to an array of different fields, Munir pooled her knowledge from various classes combining psychology, programming, and graphic design. “Beam Diagnostics provided me with the freedom and creative environment any artist could ask for,” said Munir. “I realized coding is an art, [and] I learned to allow myself to be creative and trust in my process and skills while maintaining good communication and open-mindedness with the team.”

 

ELI will again offer internships for the Summer 2021 semester, in addition to a new Innovation Fellowship that’s currently being finalized. For more information on the Institute, visit ELI’s website.

 

Jeff Dingler is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. He is pursuing his M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.

 


“I Craved the Feeling that I Was Making a Difference”: A Senior Shares Her Journey Into the Entrepreneurial Mindset

Claire Tourigny ‘20 is an English major from Manchester, New Hampshire.

The story of how I came to discover the entrepreneurial mindset is not an unusual one, but it is strange. By that, I mean it’s a bizarre journey that includes a psychic and a trip across the ocean, but it’s one that I think a lot of people might resonate with.

I came to Hollins effectively a pre-declared English major, and in fact, the knowledge that I would be studying creative writing is what drew me to Hollins in the first place. I had spent my high school years bouncing between literary magazines and student newspapers, paying more attention to my books and journals than to my classes, and dreaming of one day becoming a successful writer.

Little has changed on that front. What stood out to me about Hollins was the English Department  –  the professors, the classes, the student involvement. Immediately after first-year orientation I filled my schedule with as many gen-ed and prereq courses as possible, just so I could get the boring stuff out of the way and devote the rest of my college experience to my writing. This would turn out to be the smartest decision I made that first semester, as it freed up the next three and half years for my winding journey through academia.

It was a dark and stormy night when my friend and I were deciding our class schedule for the fall of 2017. I’d picked three English-adjacent classes I wanted to take, but one of them was only two credits, and so I found myself a few credit hours short. So, what was a young creative writer with most of her gen-eds already over with to do, but select a class at random? I scrolled through the class catalogue, trying to find an introductory level class that fit in with my schedule, when I stumbled across “BUS 100 – Introduction to Business.”

Now, this is where things get a little bizarre.

See, the summer after high school, after I had already enrolled at Hollins and was planning my very lucrative future as a novelist, a fortune teller had told me that I was going to work in marketing. As a side note, this was one of those beach boardwalk palm readers who charged $15 for some generic rambling and told me that I would be married with children by age 20, so the validity of her claims is still a little bit up in the air. But nonetheless, I thought about that moment when reading the BUS 100 course description and thought, “Alright, I’ll bite.” Not because I had any faith at all in the predictions of the stars or whatever, but because… hey, why not?

So I signed up for the introductory business class, and like most decisions made based on the advice of a shady psychic, I immediately felt as though I had made the wrong decision. Even as sophomores, all of my classmates were so… businessy. And I was so decidedly not. There was a reason I had devoted most of my time to the written word up until that point. I stumbled and stuttered my way through classroom presentations, disappeared into my seat during discussions, and overall spent more time maintaining eye contact with the wall than my classmates.

But through it all, the material engaged me in a way that few of my random gen-eds had before. Our semester-long project was to work with a few partners to create a business plan for a hypothetical startup, and while our group’s food truck/art gallery was one of the more bizarre companies pitched during the final presentations, I found myself engaged by the process of creating something from the ground up. The numbers behind it all eluded me, but the idea of finding a need in the local economy and fulfilling it was something I had never really considered to be a part of business before. See, my group and I decided that while Roanoke certainly had its fair share of art galleries and healthy restaurants, none of those were really accessible to your average student, so we created a food truck business that also displayed student art. Yes, it was a weird idea, but it was also (unbeknownst to me) my first glimpse of social entrepreneurship. I was new to the idea of the entrepreneurial mindset, and before taking the class, “business” to me was shaking hands with sweaty guys in suits and sitting at a desk inputting numbers all day. The Intro to Business class gave me my first glimpse into the big, wide world of entrepreneurship.

So I continued down the business track, thinking that if I was going to major in English, I ought to have something practical under my belt. Due to my aforementioned preconceived notion of business as sweaty handshakes, meetings about profit margins, and a lot of spreadsheets, I assumed that a businesswoman would need a head for numbers, so I took an accounting class during the spring of my sophomore year. As someone who has always struggled with numbers, this was a strange experience. I think everyone needs basic accounting competency, just like everyone should know how to write. What I learned is that math is just another type of language, and while I enjoyed the structure and stability of learning formulas, balancing equations, and filling out charts and tables, it was nothing I could imagine myself doing long-term. I am a writer, first and foremost, and I was not willing to give that up in order to fit into my skewed image of what a business student was. I completed my accounting class with an average grade and no desire to ever continue down that road.

The next stage of my journey was in London, during the first semester of my junior year. At this point, after my unsuccessful foray into accounting, I’d decided that I needed to start seriously thinking about a stable career that fell in line with both my interests and my skills. I know –  such an easy goal, right? Well, at the time, the only thing I could really think of was journalism. So I interned for a semester at a London-based tech publication. It was, all-in-all, a great experience. I enjoyed the company I was working with, and the opportunity to spend a few months living in a different country and building up a nice portfolio wasn’t anything to turn my nose up at. But journalism itself wasn’t what I thought it would be, or rather, it wasn’t what I wanted. Or, rather rather, it wasn’t what I learned that I needed.

By that, I mean simply that I learned something while spending a semester churning out tech articles and scheduling interviews. While I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as “selling out,” it wasn’t enough for me to simply spend my days writing about whatever I was told to write about. I wanted creative control over my own words. I wanted to choose what to write about based on my interests, not just trending news topics and hashtags. And more than that, I craved the feeling I got during BUS 100, when my group partners and I sat around a table, spit-firing out ideas on how to fill the need for low-cost food and accessible art in the Roanoke community –  the feeling that I was making a difference.

When I got back to Hollins in the spring of my junior year, I decided I was going to minor in business, and signed up for an e-commerce class as a way of fulfilling a graduation requirement. At this stage, I still had no idea where I wanted my business minor to take me –  I just knew that I wanted it to take me somewhere. I’ll admit, I was expecting very little from this class, solely based off of the fact that I did not think I would really engage with the material. Oh, how wrong I was.

In fact, no business class changed my perspective as much as this one, because it was this e-commerce class that introduced me to the world of inbound marketing. It hit me like an arrow –  all of a sudden, I realized that I could combine my love for writing with my interest in business. Our semester-long project was to design a website for a local small business that was just about to launch, and for the first time in my academic career, I found myself actually volunteering to take charge over the blog. I’m not good at numbers and I can’t for the life of me make a presentation without panicking, but I can write. And for the first time ever, I realized that my skills could actually be useful as an entrepreneur.

After the semester ended and senior year began, I was hired to work for the then-new Entrepreneurial Learning Institute (ELI) as a content marketer. Not only did I write the blog posts and help manage the social media presence, but I found myself at the base of something important, working beside other, frankly more talented students to help create the institute from the ground up. It was through working for ELI that I finally defined social entrepreneurship. It’s the idea that I just barely came across in BUS 100, the idea that a small startup can create powerful change just by fulfilling a need in the community. And through this definition, I realized that anyone, even a creative writer, can be an entrepreneur.

 

Photo Credit: Mary Daley Photography


Entrepreneurship Team Earns Praise at Innovation Challenge

A team of Hollins students sponsored by the university’s Entrepreneurial Learning Institute received honors at the 2020 Elon Innovation Challenge, held February 29 at Elon University in North Carolina.

De Faustina Camacho ‘23, Olivia Dannon ‘20, Zahin Mahbuba ‘23, and Chanmolis Mout ’23 were recognized with an Honorable Mention and the Best Prototype Award at the annual event, where teams of students from several universities engage in a one-day social innovation competition to solve a compelling real-life issue. This year, 20 teams from four states developed solutions to improve student health and well-being on college campuses.

“For our project, we had to identify the value proposition, target market, and competitive landscape, as well as our market strategy and business model,” Dannon explained. “The solid foundation of business and entrepreneurial concepts our team has learned at Hollins was a large factor in our overall performance.”

She added, “I have always had a strong interest in innovation and entrepreneurship, and having this opportunity to put that interest into practice was rewarding.”

Mahbuba believes her presentation capabilities improved dramatically as a result of participating in the event. “Coming up with a problem and a viable solution in less than ten hours and then convincing a panel of expert judges really helped me grow my skills. I also learned a lot from watching others articulate their ideas and offer other methodologies toward solving problems.”

The first-year student is planning to employ what she experienced at the Innovation Challenge within her own campus community. “This further enlightened me as far as both problem finding and problem solving, and opens more doors for me to serve Hollins.”

Hollins’ Entrepreneurial Learning Institute combines the hallmarks of a liberal arts education – critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, and leadership – with the entrepreneurial spirit and mindset that are driving opportunity and business growth in the 21st century.

 

Photo: Members of the Hollins entrepreneurship team with Alyssa Martina, director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Elon University (far left) and Karen Messer-Bourgoin (far right), director of Hollins’ Entrepreneurial Learning Institute and professor of practice in the university’s economics and business department.

 


Workshops Focus on the Power of Merging Entrepreneurship with the Liberal Arts

Members of the Hollins community recently engaged with an internationally recognized thought leader in entrepreneurial mindset education to refute some of the conventional wisdom about launching a new enterprise.

Gary Schoeniger, founder and CEO of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative training and consulting firm and co-author of the bestselling book, Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur, spent two days on campus exploring with faculty and students the role of entrepreneurship in society and how entrepreneurs derive joy and meaning from their work.

“Our overall objective is to dispel the myth that entrepreneurship is solely the pursuit of building businesses,” said Karen Messer-Bourgoin, professor of practice at Hollins and director of the university’s Entrepreneurial Learning Institute. “Combining a traditional liberal arts education with an entrepreneurial mindset can help distinguish Hollins graduates by equipping them with the attitudes and skills the world now demands to help solve the most complex social, political, economic, and environmental challenges of our time.”

During his faculty workshop, Schoeniger identified specific interdisciplinary concepts that help cultivate entrepreneurial thinking and learning not only in the classroom but throughout the university and beyond. “I’ve never thought of entrepreneurship as a business discipline. I’ve always thought of it as a behavioral phenomenon,” Schoeniger explained. “We are all born with an innate drive to become all that we can become. We’re naturally curious, that’s how we figure out our environment. We also are born with an innate desire to solve problems.”

Messer-Bourgoin added, “The goal of the faculty workshop was to stimulate a deeper understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset and promote entrepreneurial teaching and learning in the classroom.”

In his discussion with students, Schoeniger described entrepreneurship as “an altruistic paradox. You want to benefit (personally) but you also want to make an impact (on others). Entrepreneurs aren’t just inventing new products and services. They’re solving problems on the micro and macro levels, from the smallest and most mundane issues to things that change the world.”

Schoeniger encouraged students to go out into their communities, talk to entrepreneurs, and find out “how ordinary people identify, evaluate, and bring an idea to life. I promise, you’re going to hear interesting stories. After you do that 20, 50, 100 times, you’ll hear common language, common logic, and common situational factors, patterns that transcend time, socioeconomics, and gender.”

Those conversations, Schoeniger said, will often lead to the crux of how entrepreneurs achieve success and reach fulfillment: the articulation of a compelling goal, which he calls “something that’s gripped you, something you’re thinking about all the time. Because if you don’t have a compelling goal, you’re never going to get to be who you are. The entrepreneur chooses the life they want to live. They don’t just allow their circumstances to dictate their lives.”

Schoeniger’s message resonated with  Zahin Mahbuba, president of Hollins’ Entrepreneurship Club. “The entrepreneurial mindset is not just a business problem-solving mechanism. It is a lifestyle that transpires change-making in society,” she said.

And, Hollins undergraduates are embracing that mindset. One who attended the student workshop noted, “I want to take social entrepreneurship home to make a difference in my community,” while another remarked, “I always thought that being an entrepreneur meant dealing with profit and coming up with business plans. The key to becoming an entrepreneur is making yourself useful to others.”