Professor Stephen Haag lecturing

Less than two years ago, the Entrepreneurship Program at Daniels was a quiet little program serving only 49 students who primarily took research courses and read case studies.

Today, the program boasts 237 students and anticipates 320 by fall 2019. These students are launching their own businesses, competing for investment dollars, receiving invites to international incubators and earning solid profits. So what changed? Chalk it up to a fundamental tenet in the world of entrepreneurialism: the pivot.

As any successful entrepreneur can tell you, no brilliant idea comes to fruition without challenges. The key to success is in figuring out how to change course—or pivot. And that’s exactly what Daniels did two years ago.

As Professor of the Practice Stephen Haag, director of the Entrepreneurship Program and a successful entrepreneur in his own right, tells it, Daniels Dean Brent Chrite gave him a task: Build something great! In essence, Chrite asked Haag to look at the obstacles to growth and show the College how to pivot.

The result: a new entrepreneurship minor, innovative collaborations with units across campus, new competitions and funding opportunities for young entrepreneurs, and partnerships with some of Denver’s underrepresented populations who seek to participate in the city’s vibrant economy.

Haag summed the changes up this way: “How you teach entrepreneurship must be entrepreneurial.”

The Entrepreneurship Minor

After receiving the dean’s directive, Haag quickly rolled out the “From Idea to First Dollar Sale” class, in which students are challenged to form a business and earn a profit in one semester. Students in the very first course earned a gross revenue of $10,135 with a profit margin of 54 percent.

“The most terrifying step for students is telling them, ‘You have to go sell that this weekend,’” Haag said. “But that’s the only way they’ll learn. There is no staying in the bubble.”

That course represents the first offering in Daniels’ innovative new entrepreneurship minor. The final course in the minor—“Sustainable Growth”—helps students understand how to grow their business long term.

The genius of the minor, according to some, is in the one-day workshops sandwiched between the first and final courses. Called “Grinds,” these workshops are offered on Saturdays and are taught by entrepreneurs and experts whom Haag personally recruits. Students enrolled in the minor must take 12 of the 30 grinds, and they don’t have to interrupt the rest of their weekday course load to take them.

“This program leverages industry professionals who are passionate about sharing their experience and knowledge with students,” said Stephan Reckie, founding managing member of Angelus Funding and a successful entrepreneur, who taught a Grind titled, “The Perfect Pitch.” “Decades of experience are shared and, given that entrepreneurship is built upon success and failure, that experience is priceless.”

Amelia Coomber graduated in summer 2018 with a BS in computer science and a minor in math. She was also one of the first to graduate with an entrepreneurship minor. Over the course of her studies, Coomber launched a company called BB & Co., which reminds women to perform monthly breast self-exams.

The entrepreneurship minor enabled her to take risks and learn from mistakes while still in college, surrounded by support, Coomber said. For example, she learned how to pivot her marketing images after an unsuccessful pitch to Haag and several other entrepreneurs.

“It’s very helpful to launch a business while you’re also studying in a collaborative environment where you can ask questions,” she said.

Entrepreneurialism: It’s Not Just for Business Students Anymore
Thanks to rave reviews by students like Coomber, the Entrepreneurship Program’s many offerings have caught on like wildfire around campus. Haag said that 40 percent of the students taking entrepreneurship courses at Daniels come from other schools and departments.

J.B. Holston, dean of the Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science, said engineers and computer science experts are two of the biggest resources for innovation in the marketplace today, which has led some of his students to take entrepreneurship courses at Daniels.

“Engineering schools across the country are looking to get their students engaged in entrepreneur-like activities,” Holston said. “In their careers, they will need to be entrepreneurial no matter what they choose to do—whether they work for a large company, a small company or start their own.”

Rosanna Garcia, Walter Koch Endowed Chair of Entrepreneurship and associate professor of marketing at Daniels, is also part of the Entrepreneurship Program. She conducts research into best practices around the country. Her studies recently led to some interesting findings on why women are underrepresented in entrepreneur programs, leading her to suggest changes to the way the DU program markets itself to women. She sees the symbiotic relationship with schools across campus as a natural progression of the Entrepreneurship Program.

“Our ability to serve schools and students across campus is purposeful and is also a natural outcome of the way today’s students think about their careers,” Garcia said. “Today’s social workers may start companies that focus on helping society; Daniels can give them the business skills to help them succeed.”

From Daniels to Denver: The Power of Entrepreneurial Outreach

The entrepreneurial spirit at Daniels is also being felt around the metro area. By January 2019, members of the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce will have access to seven Saturday Grinds handpicked for them by Chamber leadership and offered at a 90 percent tuition discount.

“People in underrepresented and underserved communities can see that there is an economic explosion going on across the Front Range, and they are asking us, ‘How do I become part of it?’” said Chamber Executive Director Lee Kathryn Gash-Maxey. “I’m excited to be able to introduce them to the same concepts and people that DU students have access to.”

Haag is also in talks to establish similar partnerships with the Colorado LGBTQ Chamber and the Hispanic Chamber.

“Those underserved areas are truly fertile and ripe for innovation,” Haag said. “That’s where we’re going to see the greatest innovators in the next 10 years, and I’m excited that Daniels will be part of it.”

Entrepreneurship Requires Competition and Collaboration

In addition to the new minor, ongoing research activities and community outreach, the Entrepreneurship Program is home to some of DU’s most innovative collaborations and competitions for young entrepreneurs.

The Madden Challenge enables students from across campus to compete for investment dollars in their business ideas. Additionally, the Harry Trueblood Innovation Collaboratory, which was announced this fall, enables students to compete for funds to purchase the equipment or materials they need to launch their business.

Garcia is also working on several new programs she hopes to launch in collaboration with Project X-ITE, a DU venture that supports entrepreneurial thinkers through collaborative events, experiential programming and strategic global partnerships.

Because there are so many entrepreneurship classes, clubs and competitions available to Daniels and DU students, Garcia held an “Entrepalooza” fair for students to learn about the many resources available to them.

Why Entrepreneurship? Why Now?

This explosion of entrepreneurialism is about much more than starting a small business. In fact, many of the people involved use the term “entrepreneurial spirit” to capture the essence of the movement.

“Even CEOs of giant companies need the wily, creative, clever, innovative spirit of an entrepreneur,” Haag said. “Those leaders need to see around the corner, what’s coming down the pike that nobody else can see. That’s entrepreneurial.”

Garcia brings it all back to Daniels, explaining why the college is emerging as an entrepreneurial hub on campus and in Denver: “All those ideas that people have, whether they’re engineers or social workers, they’ve got to know how to bring them to the marketplace. That’s where Daniels comes in.”

Read more about Stephen Haag and Rosanna Garcia, and see how the Entrepreneurship Program has helped three alums—Amelia CoomberRyan McLean and Caroline Creidenberg—launch their own businesses.