App State Entrepreneurship Center

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Local universities continue to be one of our startup community's greatest assets—not only do they educate and produce talent that feeds into the startup community but they train students to become entrepreneurs and they employ professors and researchers who develop and commercialize groundbreaking innovation. 

There's a team of people on every campus that help to connect faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members with various programs and opportunities, all to promote innovation and economic development in the state of North Carolina.

In the second of a series of Q&As with university leaders across the state, meet some of the folks making it happen at Appalachian State University, UNC-Asheville and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.

Jill Sparks AB Tech in Asheville

Jill Sparks 

Executive director of Small Business Center/Business Incubation and regional director of the Small Business Center Network 
Asheville-Buncombe Community College 
 
Brief overview of your job/role with the university
The A-B Tech Small Business Center (SBC) is part of the statewide Small Business Center Network (SBCN), a NC community college-funded initiative with a vision to foster and support entrepreneurship, small business, and economic development in local communities with an emphasis on assisting start-ups, early stage and at-risk enterprises. 
 
Small Business Centers (SBCs) are located at each of the state’s 58 community colleges and in my role, I work with our team to provide counseling, training and entrepreneurial programming at the local and regional level. In addition, A-B Tech offers a business incubation program which includes office, lab and manufacturing space and we work closely with our regional partners on joint entrepreneurial initiatives. We also provide entrepreneurial programming for students which includes summer camps for middle and high schoolers as well as a student business incubator program for A-B Tech students. 
 
How does your background contribute to your role in entrepreneurship programming? 
Prior to entering higher education, I was a banker and this, coupled with an MBA, is an invaluable tool for my role. However, it is my experience as director of career planning and later director of development at Appalachian State University that permeates all aspects of my job. Providing counseling to entrepreneurs doesn’t end with cash flow, target markets and exit strategies, it often encompasses all aspects of an entrepreneur’s life. My job often involves life coaching and balancing encouragement with reality checks. Approximately 50 percent of those who utilize our services are in the exploratory phase and my background in career counseling assists me in helping the client identify where their passion meets the problem they hope to solve or the need they intend fulfill. 
 
What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role? 
Although I am very proud that the A-B Tech Small Business Center consistently ranks as one of the top performers within the Small Business Center Network (SBCN) each year, my proudest moments frequently occur when clients tell our team how much we have assisted them and the subsequent sales growth, funds acquisition and/or job growth that often follows. 
 
Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why? 
This is tough because I interact with so many impressive entrepreneurs who often have different goals for their businesses as well as different challenges they are facing or have overcome. With that said, I am very impressed with A-B Tech business incubation program graduate Steven Schain, founder Spectra3D Technologies, a company which offers resources to support the entire 3D printing ecosystem. 
 
Steve is an A-B Tech graduate and participated in our Student Business Incubator program while earning his degree. Upon graduation he entered our business incubation program and hired A-B Tech students and graduates as his business grew. Since graduating from the incubation program, he often returns to the classroom to teach, has served as a volunteer with our office and has been involved in our Young Entrepreneurial Scholars (YES!) Camp for middle and high school students. Steve has been a great ambassador for the college and has experienced several success pivots as the 3D industry evolves. 
 
A fun fact about yourself? 
I like to create jingles and rap songs for my kids and co-workers, so maybe that can be my startup one day!

Madison Eddings Protecht

Madison Eddings 

Student entrepreneur 
UNC Asheville 
 
Brief overview of your venture 
Pro(tech)t, LLC. is a social enterprise focused on reducing sexual assaults on college campuses. We merge innovative wearable technology with mechanisms for cultural change in order to offer students immediate protection by putting them in direct contact with campus and local police, as well as implement long-term change against rape culture. 
 
Tell your founder story and/or share your entrepreneurial experience in college.
Ben Eisdorfer and I took a class on social entrepreneurship that required you to come up with a sustainable business that addresses a social issue. We went in know we wanted to combat sexual assault but we weren’t sure where to start. We were sitting in my dorm room talking about what an individual needs in those crucial moments before an assault and we realized that they need someone to know where they are and that they need help. That is how we came up with our wearable tech product: iuvo

iuvo is a wristband that, with the push of a button, sends an emergency signal and the wearer’s location to campus police who can track the signal in real time. We also knew that we wanted to take a percentage of profits and put it towards mechanisms for cultural change like survivor support, educational programs, and legislative reform. We quickly realized our roles and ways of thinking that allow us to function as a team. Ben is more creative and has truly innovative ideas for everything from the technology to the marketing plan. I, on the other hand, think more analytically and help to keep us on track to meet goals and next steps. This balance really allows us to tackle such a large issue from a myriad of perspectives. 
 
What’s an extra proud moment from your time as an entrepreneur? 
Our proudest moment was winning third place in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards hosted by the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO). We were invited to compete in the US round of the competition two weeks before it took place, whereas other teams had months to prepare and refine their pitch as well as receive coaching from EO members. We went in nervous about our limited time to prepare but we truly gave it our all. I gave a 12-minute pitch about our enterprise. We were the only team that was pre-sales but we managed to take third in the nation out of 25 teams! We were incredibly proud and grateful for the opportunity. 
 
A fun fact about yourself? 
I went into college thinking that business would be the most boring career! I thought I would never be interested in studying business or being a business person but, sure enough, I fell in love with it. I am particularly interested in entrepreneurship with a passion and deep respect for social enterprises. It just goes to show that we can’t go through life with preconceived notions about something or even ourselves. We need to really give every opportunity a chance to be a life-changing experience, because you will be surprised by what inspires you. 
 
Susan Clark Muntean UNC Asheville

Susan Clark Muntean 

Assistant Professor of Management 
UNC Asheville 
 
Brief overview of your job/role with the university
My specialty is analyzing entrepreneurial ecosystems, particularly in regards to the roles intermediary organizations and gatekeepers play in making an ecosystem inclusive or exclusive to entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds, contexts and perspectives. At UNCA, I teach the entrepreneurship sequence, which begins with understanding and fostering an entrepreneurial mindset and progresses into the development of skill sets with respect to creative problem solving, design thinking and transformational organizational and community engagement. 

How does your background contribute to your role in entrepreneurship programming? 
My background as both a political scientist and a business consultant helps me to have a vision about the big picture contexts and potential for entrepreneurs and innovative ideas to have transformational impact.
 
What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role? 
My proudest moments involve coaching students on winning social business plan competitions and seeing them go on to national and international success while undergraduate students. My background as both a political scientist and a business consultant helps me to have a vision about the big picture contexts and potential for entrepreneurs and innovative ideas to have transformational impact. 

Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you've met through your role?
Laura McCann-Ramsey of ADORAtherapy is the most impressive local entrepreneur that Asheville is blessed to have relocate to the area. Laura is serving on our department's advisory board. We share a passion for building and expanding an innovative and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Asheville and Western North Carolina and UNCA is supportive of this collaboration.

What's a fun fact about yourself? 
I've lived on four continents and visited over 40 countries, which enables me to bring a global perspective to the classroom and Asheville's entrepreneurial community. 

Erich Schlenker App State

Erich Schlenker 

Managing Director for the Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship
Appalachian State University 
 
Brief overview of your job/role with the university 
My job at the center is to create programs and align resources to anyone on campus who has an idea for a new business or venture. The center provides workshops, online informational content, programs, seminars and one-on-one coaching for anyone who needs support. 
 
How does your background contribute to your role in entrepreneurship programming? 
My background in business, marketing and entrepreneurship led to this job. After graduating college, I worked on the marketing team at Intel for 11 years. Later, I started an enterprise software training business in Cary called Synaptis. I ran that for seven years and then did some nonprofit community work for a while, until I moved to the High Country and got this job in 2014. 
 
What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role? 
I love to watch students get their first revenue dollar. When someone decides to trade their hard-owned dollars for students, products and services, it’s good to see students get that external recognition through their winnings. 
 
Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why? 
I don’t want to choose which entrepreneur is most impressive for the same reason I don’t pick favorites among my children. They all carry unique passions in their own ways. 
 
A fun fact about yourself?  
I had four children in less than three years, I’m getting an awesome hawk tattoo soon and I’m a huge Breaking Bad fan! 
 
Jonathan Carpenter App State

Jonathan Carpenter 

Assistant Director for the Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship 
Appalachian State University
 
How does your background contribute to your role in entrepreneurship programming? 
I graduated App with a bachelor’s degree in economics and entrepreneurship and later earned an MBA in International Business. Then I served as the director of sales and marketing at Crosstrade, a fair trade import company in Blowing Rock. Erich reached out to me last year and asked for my help with GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), a college access program that provides education opportunities to kids and to helps them pursue different avenues of interests. I helped create programs involving entrepreneurship for those kids and then got the assistant director job here at the center. 
 
What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role? 
When you see the light bulb go off in their heads, making things clear that didn’t make sense. I like witnessing them see the pathway to their future and say, “Wow, I can do this!” 
 
Who is the most impressive entrepreneur you’ve come into contact with through your work, and why? 
Ditto Erich!
 
A fun fact about yourself? 
I successfully snuck into the Super Bowl.

Mary Lynn Manns UNC Asheville

Mary Lynn Manns

Professor of Management and Accountancy
UNC Asheville

Brief overview of your job/role with the university 
In addition to teaching at the university, I'm coordinator of the Ideas to Action initiative, a program for students who want to take their ideas to the next level by working in interdisciplinary teams to design social entrepreneurship ventures. Our iterative approach to product development emphasizes research throughout academic and community sources and provides mentorship from professional entrepreneurs and other community leaders.

How does your background contribute to your role in entrepreneurship programming? 
I'm the author of several books including Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas and More Fearless Change: Strategies for Making Your Ideas Happen. I have a Ph.D. in information systems, an MBA and teach courses that range from management science and management information systems to social entrepreneurship and women changing the world.

What’s an extra proud moment from your time in your role? 
After only two years, the Ideas to Action initiative has yielded statewide competition winners and two-year funding to support project growth. Our next steps are to find additional funding as well as opportunities for students to prototype their projects. Emerging opportunities for students to continue in off-campus presentations and competitions and in prototype development. Two very recent UNC Asheville resources—the River Arts Makers Place (RAMP) lab for innovation and collaboration and the Center for Creative Entrepreneurship recently launched by UNC Asheville and the Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design—are likely to offer exciting possibilities for students to advance from paper to product.

A fun fact about yourself? 
I did the UNC Asheville commencement speech in 2013 and led the students in Zumba. The video, and more info about me, can be found here.