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Emerging entrepreneurs: Students attend Innovation Academy

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East Carolina students presented their business models during the first ever ECU School of Business Summer Innovation Academy at the Willis Building Friday, June 22, 2018.

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By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Dedicated business owners rarely get breaks and that lesson was one of many that 22 local high schoolers learned in the first-ever Summer Innovation Academy that was hosted by the East Carolina University’s Miller School of Entrepreneurship throughout the week. 

While many of their peers were near the coast taking in the warm weather or at a summer camp retreat, a contingent of students from Pitt and neighboring counties spent the work week in a different kind of camp aimed at instilling in them an entrepreneurial mindset. 

“I’m amazed at the talent of these young students,” Miller School Director David Harris said. “It just shows that in eastern North Carolina there are a lot of emerging entrepreneurs in the backyard of our community.”

The class included lessons ranging from how to start a business to things to keep in mind such as liability and market saturation. It was all packed into the session that ran from Monday to Friday and culminated in an trade-show-style idea pitch event yesterday where parents and local entrepreneurs saw first-hand the result of the academy. 

D.H. Conley High School rising senior Ramya Mabry and her team designed their project around the idea of an affordable, healthy food option aimed at senior citizens. Mabry said that this is a need she has seen firsthand in the community and it is an idea she will keep in mind as she intends to pursue a career in business.

“I came because I wanted to learn about the skills of owning my own business,” said Mabry, who is engaged in the Future Business Leaders of America program at Conley. “I’ve learned that your idea can be furthered by others’ ideas. You’re not always right about everything so it’s good to have teamwork.” 

The program is a pilot for the Miller School. The summer academy signed up about 30 students, but that number eventually fell to 22 because of other obligations. The student body mostly consists of public and private school students from Pitt County but there are a few from neighboring counties as well. One student, for example, is from Kinston. 

Harris said the program went well enough that he hopes to expand it in the future. He would like it to be a residential camp where students can actually stay on campus throughout the week. 

The camp is, of course, beneficial to the school itself. It picks up the price tag to provide the free experience with the hopes of getting the area’s best and brightest on campus as they mull higher education opportunities. 

“We want to show them that while these are young adults that will have great opportunities for college, they have a first-class institution that really values entrepreneurship in their backyard,” Harris said. “We want them to consider us.” 

That approach worked  — at least partially — for Jenny Surkan, a rising senior at The Oakwood School who has narrowed her choices down to UNC Chapel Hill and ECU. She said the academy has been a beneficial experience as a whole. She said getting the college experience was important, but Surkan wants to be in a science field when she graduates college.

Still, she was quick to note that the lessons learned in the sessions were important no matter what field she pursues. 

“I really enjoyed the camp,” Surkan said. “I’ve been able to put myself in the shoes of a business owner and conceptualize how to break ground. No matter what field I pick, whether it is STEM or the humanities, it would definitely involve some aspect of business.”

The summer program was taught by a handful of ECU business instructors including the lead instructor Corey Pulido, who said that making sure the students are engaged is the most important aspect of the academy, something that was clear as the students gathered in the Bate Building for lunch and shared ideas and laughs on Thursday.

“What we really focused on this week was trying to make the learning process fun,” Pulido said. “We want them to get an idea and find a way to transform that idea into something.”

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.

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