Great ideas can come from unexpected places – even out of a trashcan.
DePaul MBA student John Poulopoulos says he has been looking for the right business idea his whole life. One day, he saw a bunch of trashcans near his home had blown over in the wind, scattering garbage all over the street. Then, it came to him. There had to be a better way.
Throughout DePaul, students are coming up with ideas that will make things better – products, businesses and social ventures. The Coleman Entrepreneurship Center at DePaul is working with faculty to help these students explore their entrepreneurial ideas. The center has a new, dedicated space and new leadership working with faculty to connect with more entrepreneurs like Poulopoulos.
Opened in the spring, the center’s welcoming suite on the seventh floor of the DePaul Center is designed to be flexible for events, seminars and meetings. “This gives our students a venue to collaborate with mentors, faculty and other students in developing their new ventures,” says Ray Whittington, dean of the Driehaus College of Business. “We never had that kind of space before, and it provides a small incubator for all DePaul University students.”
Bruce Leech, the center’s new executive director, has spent his first six months connecting with faculty and reaching out to the local start-up community.
“We want to be a resource for anyone around campus,” Leech says. “Chicago is abuzz with incubators and resources, and we’re finding more all the time. If we can’t help you, we will find the people who can.”
For example, the center recently connected with 2112 Chicago, a music, tech and film incubator. Another incubator in the West Loop has a certified clean kitchen for culinary pursuits. DePaul’s space at powerhouse incubator 1871 is now up and running, and it is open to DePaul students and faculty. Leech is already impressed with the networking opportunities available there. Finally, the second run of a coding academy with Blue 1647 that Murphy launched last year is in planning stages.
“About 60 percent of millennials in this country see themselves working for themselves or freelancing for somebody else,” Leech says. “The business model now is to come together and work on projects. It’s even more important that you know how to brand yourself and be creative.”
The Coleman Entrepreneurship Center was founded in 2003 and complements DePaul’s renowned academic entrepreneurship program, which has been ranked in the top 25 in the nation for more than 20 years. Last year the Princeton Review ranked DePaul’s undergraduate program 12th and graduate program 15th. Leech has been collaborating with faculty to increase coordination between the center and the academic program.
“We help students understand what entrepreneurial concepts and theories look like in the real world,” says Patrick J. Murphy, professor of entrepreneurship in the Driehaus College of Business. “In this area, the adage ‘theory without practice is pointless, but practice without theory is blind’ is especially apt.”
After his moment of inspiration, Poulopoulos came to Murphy for guidance. Poulopoulos takes classes at night, and by day he is working to get his venture off the ground. His idea? Originally the “garbage claw,” after a few meetings with Murphy THE CAN KOALA trashcan stabilizing system was born. Currently in prototype stage, it attaches to walls and hugs bins and cans so they don’t fall over. This quarter, he is working with a team in Murphy’s entrepreneurship seminar. Murphy has overseen hundreds of student-based outreach consulting projects with Chicago entrepreneurs who could use guidance. Murphy does not usually do outreach projects with current students, but he made an exception for Poulopoulos, who is ready to brand and market his invention.
Like many entrepreneurs starting out, Poulopoulos says he’s made some mistakes. But that keeps him motivated. “At the end of the day, if I fail, I know the process now. I know what it takes,” Poulopoulos says.
Social enterprise is very popular area for DePaul students, says Murphy, who developed and teaches an MBA seminar in the topic. “Many of them have a community in mind that they want to serve with a venture that makes money to cover its costs but also generates social value. It’s a fundamentally Vincentian pursuit,” he says.
Murphy also sees international students as vital to the future of the center. Murphy oversaw DePaul’s university-level China initiatives for five years, and he and Leech just returned from visiting two university entrepreneurship centers in China to launch new strategic collaborations.
When pioneering Coleman Entrepreneurship Chair Harold Welsch founded the program at DePaul in the 1980s, it took some convincing to get students interested, explains Michael W. Hennessy, president and CEO of the Coleman Foundation. Now things have changed dramatically.
“Today’s students don’t need to be convinced that entrepreneurship is important, they just get it,” Hennessy says. “Instead of asking what it means to be an entrepreneur, students want to know how to get started.”
The center is holding events every week that are open to DePaul students, alumni, faculty and staff.
“We want students to feel welcome to come in with an idea, in a very informal setting, to get feedback,” Leech says. “The real magic comes from diversity – a finance student and a CDM student sharing ideas, maybe even going in on a project together.”
For more information about upcoming events at the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, visit http://colemanent.org/.