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Entrepreneurs thrive at UNC Kenan-Flagler

Standing around table six students animatedly discuss Makeathon project

Innovation is the DNA of entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler, where you’ll find the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders who are preparing to solve complex global challenges and have a positive impact on society.

To deliver a recipe for students’ entrepreneurial success, UNC Kenan-Flagler combines three ingredients: curriculum, hands-on programming and research.

>> Learn more about the MBA concentration in Entrepreneurship.

In launch co-working space student sits in orange chair typing on computer

Launch Chapel Hill space.
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The entrepreneurship curriculum is a big draw for students to the MBA and Undergraduate Business Programs at UNC Kenan-Flagler. The wide range of course offerings include a concentration in entrepreneurship for full-time MBA and Undergraduate Business students, the Global Entrepreneurship Lab for Evening Executive MBA. Charlotte Executive MBA and Weekend Executive MBA students, and a variety of electives for all MBA students.

Underpinning UNC’s academic rigor is its location in the Triangle, America’s biggest research park that houses hundreds of startups, leading schools and government agencies.

“It’s a leading tech ecosystem in the U.S.,” says Ted Zoller, T.W. Lewis Clinical Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. “And it has been on a huge upward trajectory in the past decade. We have strength in life sciences, biotech and artificial intelligence. The whole region is a test lab for entrepreneurship.”

UNC Kenan-Flagler plugs into this dynamic and interdisciplinary network, inviting top founders and innovators into classrooms for teaching and networking that lead to mentors, internships and full-time jobs. Instead of having their heads in books, students work with a new team, build a prototype and an elevator pitch, and learn about customer discovery and ideation.

Zoller is convinced that entrepreneurship can be taught through a mixture of experiential learning and theory, and classes reflect this along different career pathways.

Every path is different

But because each entrepreneurial journey is different, the entrepreneurship curriculum caters to a wide variety of students, even those who don’t plan to become the next Gates or Zuckerberg. An entrepreneurial education at UNC Kenan-Flagler exposes students to new ways of thinking and paves the way for them to explore their interests and passions while picking up new skills and knowledge.

Every budding businessperson, no matter their career path, can benefit from an “entrepreneurial mindset,” says Zoller. It’s a pragmatic way of thinking about how to find and overcome challenges, be decisive and own outcomes.

“Every successful venture is a product of its team,” he says. “Not everyone is an idea person. We are preparing not just the founder but also the funder, the early joiner and the growth executive.”

Whitnie Low Narcisse’s (MBA ’16) experiences at UNC Kenan-Flagler were a formative part of her professional journey. As an active member of the Alliance for Minority Business Students, Carolina Women in Business, Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club and Energy Club, and took part in the Venture Capital Investment Competition. Now she’s a rising star in Silicon Valley’s venture capital scene: She leads First Round’s post-investment team.

Mining the best research

Research informs and strengthens programs and curriculum by translating world-class research by UNC Kenan-Flagler faculty into frameworks for entrepreneurship that are taught to students, and insights that can easily be consumed by practitioners, ecosystem builders and policy makers. This includes Zoller’s “Six M Framework” or six steps to startup success: meaning (the value proposition), market (research), model (business plan), milestones (key phases), management (of people and strategy) and money (fundraising).

“The framework teaches students to see a business from every dimension, and iterate and solve problems,” says Zoller.

Groundbreaking research keeps the curriculum current, with faculty in the strategy and entrepreneurship area examining a wide range of issues.

A lifelong journey

The support does not stop at graduation. Alumni can access short courses, webinars and accelerators throughout their entrepreneurial journey. Assisting students who want to start ventures is just part of the work. The entrepreneurship curriculum at UNC Kenan-Flagler differentiates itself by helping them scale, too.

“We see entrepreneurship as a lifelong journey,” says Zoller. Many students prefer to work for a few years after graduation to pay off debt and gain experience, and then found businesses farther down the line, she says.

Alex Brandwein holding a bagel

Alex with a Brandwein’s bagel

Graduates have notched up plenty of successes. Alex Brandwein (MBA ’20), who used to work in finance, started his business while a student and going through the Adams Apprenticeship program and Launch Chapel Hill Accelerator, and opened his New York-style bagel shop in Chapel Hill in fall 2020. Doug Speight (MBA ’06), who went through the SoftLaunch Curriculum, launched a company after graduation, and then served as executive director of the American Underground co-working space development in Durham.

But don’t measure the value of an entrepreneurship program by the quantity of ventures alone, says Zoller. The benchmark for success is the impact companies have on the world.

“We are building marathon runners, not sprinters,” says Zoller. “We want people to have a lasting impact throughout their entire careers.”

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