University receives $1M grant to expand entrepreneurial program

Source: Adapted from Huntington University press release

A $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. is creating new entrepreneurial opportunities for students at Huntington University (HU) as well as individuals across Northeast Indiana. 

The grant, which is part of the Endowment’s Initiative to Promote Opportunities Through Educational Collaborations, will enable HU to expand and enhance its existing entrepreneurial program and create new opportunities through Fast Forward, HU’s new entrepreneurial program. Fast Forward will offer current and future HU students an innovative and regionally unique program for career exploration, idea cultivation, entrepreneurial encouragement and applied work experience. 

Fast Forward also will help to stimulate the local economy by creating jobs through groundbreaking business ideas from students in the program. 

“This is a new and exciting opportunity for Huntington University and the broader community,” said Troy Irick, vice president for HU Ventures. “In its most complete form, Fast Forward will provide the greater Northeast Indiana region not only job creation but new business formation and commercial application of entrepreneurial ideas as well.” 

The program will work in collaboration with the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (NIIC) in Fort Wayne, Ind. Under the leadership of Karl LePan, CEO of NIIC, students will be challenged to build concept teams and develop commercially viable ideas, to present their ideas to potential investors and to create a network of fellow entrepreneurs for mentoring and collaboration.

The Lilly Endowment grant will also help fund the development of business plans from students. 

“This program aligns perfectly with what the NIIC desires to provide aspiring entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Daryl Yost, director, NIIC Certified Technology Park. “Our mission is to be the rocket fuel for launching great ideas, people and companies.

“We’re ecstatic about all the possibilities and opportunities that could result from this collaborative initiative. We feel it’s the model to be used in collaboration with higher education and commend Huntington University. Graduates will be uniquely qualified to enter the marketplace of entrepreneurialism,” said Yost.

Many HU alumni have gone on to start their own businesses but stress the need of having an ongoing mentoring relationship. Fast Forward will help to bridge that gap for students and alumni.

“Business mentors provide invaluable real-world experience to young entrepreneurs. They are sounding boards focused on helping entrepreneurs succeed,” said Nate Reusser, 2004 HU alumnus and owner of Reusser Design LLC in Roanoke, Ind. “This type of one-on-one mentorship gives young entrepreneurs a leg up and helps them navigate the challenging world of business ownership.”

In recognizing the need to foster the next generation of entrepreneurs, Fast Forward will work with Huntington North High School’s Viking New Tech program to provide a select number of high school students with the opportunity to participate in the program. 

“Gallup poll data indicates that 70 percent of high school students surveyed want to start their own businesses, but fewer than 11 percent of adults actually fulfill that goal,” Irick said. “Huntington University’s Fast Forward program will provide a vehicle for young people to realize their entrepreneurial dreams.”

The grant also provides support for Huntington’s continuing collaboration with the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and other area universities in their effort to map employment and educational needs and to connect graduates with careers in the region.

HU President Sherilyn Emberton summed up the opportunity, saying, “Lilly Endowment’s $1 million grant opens the door for Huntington University to lead our region in demonstrating excellence in developing career pathways that work — from high school to college to job creation.”

The program will launch in 2014 and will be located on Huntington University’s main campus.