The message being conveyed to today’s Le Moyne students is clear. When it comes to building a business or transforming an idea into a reality: “You can do it.” These Dolphins have grown up in a world shaped by innovators, including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, whose inventions broke barriers and crossed borders. They have come of age in an era in which imagination, creativity and collaboration are prized. Many are brimming with ideas of their own that they long to cultivate, but are perhaps asking themselves the question: Where do I begin?
Now there is an answer for these burgeoning entrepreneurs: ’Phin Labs. Short for ’Phinovation, ’Phin Labs is gearing up to become an on-campus hub for hands-on, cross-disciplinary experiential learning in which students of all majors are encouraged to explore their entrepreneurial sides. Housed in the Division of Academic Affairs and created in collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences and the Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship in the Madden School of Business, ’Phin Labs will connect students with the resources they need to take on innovative, enterprising projects, especially those that will have a lasting social impact. Beginning in the spring of 2018, students will work on generating and testing ideas alongside mentors, professors, alumni and community members with the aim of one day developing and launching them.
“In this economy and the present professional reality, young professionals need to be more dynamic than ever, and more flexible and agile when it comes to their skills and experiences,” says Laila Kobrossy Audi, Ph.D., entrepreneurship and business liaison at the College. “If you were a scientist, wouldn’t it be great to learn how to manage your research team and lab budget effectively? Wouldn’t it also be great to be able to sell your next idea in your grant proposal, communicate your thoughts to a lay audience, and maybe acquire additional skills that would help in writing papers or presenting results at conferences? That’s just one example of how we plan to help students to at ’Phin Labs, but it can be applied in any discipline.”
According to entrepreneurship.com, there are more than 400 million entrepreneurs around the world, meaning that approximately one in every 18 individuals is a business owner, and that number is expected to rise. Entreprenruship.com further reported that 67 percent of people think that becoming an entrepreneur – which often means embracing flexibility and autonomy while building a legacy – is a sound professional choice. ’Phin Labs is a “solid, tangible” recognition of that, explains Leslie Streissguth, associate director of the Office of Career Advising and Development. It provides students with real-life, hands-on experiences that connect them to mentors and experts in their fields of interest.
It is the perfect opportunity for Le Moyne’s “creative, thoughtful, ambitious and curious students,” said Kate Costello-Sullivan, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The College has already established a partnership with data solutions firm Virtucom Goup. Students will work with a team of experts and mentors on the process of lead generation, approaching potential customers, closing business deals, and creating content for their clients. Another ’Phin Labs initiative will involve bringing together students from diverse disciplines to address and recommend solutions to real-world business challenges facing their corporate partners, beginning this spring with leading aerospace engineering company Wencor Group.
“The liberal arts teach flexibility of mind, adaptability, and most importantly a tolerance of ambiguity,” says Costello-Sullivan. “Alums have asked me for teams of students across majors because they recognize the value of diverse perspectives; this initiative will give students the opportunity to practice such real-world negotiations while bringing to bear the disciplinary skills they acquire in their majors. It’s a win-win.”
James Shomar, who teaches entrepreneurship on the Heights and is the founder and chief executive officer of photovoltaic technology company Solstice Power, echoed those sentiments.
“I hope students are able to get a true entrepreneurial experience with PhinLabs,” he said. “In an academic setting in particular, one could argue that launching a successful business is actually secondary to the learning experience. The goal should be to learn how recognize a real market problem, assemble a team, test a solution by interfacing with customers, and find out what it really takes to launch a company. The best-case scenario is you find yourself running a start-up with real customer validation. The worst-case scenario is you had an incredibly rich learning experience that future employers will value.”
Among the students who is eager to use ’Phin Labs is Lauren Mayse ’18, a biology major from Cecilton, Md., who looks forward to having a space on campus where students can create their own ideas and explore their potential as problem solvers and inventors, regardless of their field of study. Mayse loves the idea of using individual creativity to solve community-wide problems.
“Entrepreneurs are often considered to be the most successful people in our world, but that is not why I am drawn to entrepreneurship,” she says. “I am drawn to the idea of innovation and the execution of new ways of thinking. I believe if we only think the way we have been taught and only approach problems in known ways, then we are limiting our knowledge to the parameters of the past. Entrepreneurship appeals to me because it allows me to expand beyond what is clear and known. To me it’s about applying what we know to problems in different fields and large global issues.”