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The Social Mechanism of Supporting Entrepreneurial Projects Beyond the Classroom

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Entrepreneurship and Innovation Beyond the Classroom

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

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Paper Authors


Alexander Joseph Zorychta University of Virginia

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Alex Zorychta finds, guides, connects, and builds community for student entrepreneurs. He has been guiding and building community for student entrepreneurs for the past four years. A student entrepreneur himself, he was triggered by winning the grand prize of the UVA Entrepreneurship Cup. While pursuing this startup post-graduation for two years near the University, he helped to guide other student entrepreneurial projects. He joined the staff of the Technology Entrepreneurship program at the University of Virginia in 2015 where he helped co-founded the Works in Progress program to develop the community and culture necessary to support early student innovators and student entrepreneurs past the initial stages of their projects.

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Elizabeth P. Pyle MBA University of Virginia

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Elizabeth P. Pyle serves as Associate Director for Technology Entrepreneurship at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering & Applied Sciences (SEAS). Her focus is on developing and expanding the SEAS Technology Entrepreneurship Program beyond the classroom and across the university. Her responsibilities include, but not limited to developing student facing entrepreneurship programming, mentoring students as they shape their ideas into products and businesses; coordinate internal and external information and resources to facilitate the growth of a sustainable entrepreneurship ecosystem and maintain communication and support for key stakeholders in the SEAS community.

Ms. Pyle is also the founder and President of Pyle & Associates, LLC, an Interim Executive Management firm providing management and business consulting services across diversified industries. Her extensive experience in business development, strategic planning, marketing, operations, and leadership have left a lasting impact on overall business performance from start-up to turn-around situations. Ms. Pyle is recognized for her unusual ability to quickly create clarity around key issues to ensure that strategic plans are developed, executed and monitored for success. This clarity of vision is informed by her highly diverse career, starting as an exploration/development petroleum geologist, including a brief stint in education when she lived in Venezuela, and to the present day when her clients have ranged from a heavy equipment manufacturer to a discount brokerage and a biotech firm.

Ms. Pyle holds a MBA degree from Averett University, a MEd. from the University of Houston, and a BA in Geology from Cedar Crest College. She has served on various boards including the Board of Directors for the Charlottesville Venture Group where she chaired the Business Plan Review and Annual Business Forum Committees. In addition, she has served on the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council and as a founding Director for the Business Growth Network. She also served on the board of the Division of Professional Affairs Advisory Council for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

Known for her candor and high ethical standards, positive energy and astute people skills, she has become a valued resource for business incubator programs throughout Virginia and her success as a business consultant is reflected in the successful outcomes of her clients.

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There are now 2,100 colleges and universities in the US that have entrepreneurship programs, yet the number of new businesses per capita being created, especially those by persons aged 20-34, is at its all time lowest points in 2014-2015, since the Kauffman Center began gathering data in 1996. At the University of Virginia (UVA), the Entrepreneurship wave came and we now offer most of the programs that peer institutions offer; however, there was no real evidence that any more student entrepreneurial projects were moving forward than before. It begged the question, was there a huge blind spot in actually cultivating a Founder’s mindset?

Using the entrepreneurial approach’s first step, customer discovery, we had over 300 in-person interviews with students who self-identified as entrepreneurial, and found that the plethora of entrepreneurship programs supported some students, but not others. For the students just starting out with entrepreneurship, the current offerings were more than enough. Though, once students pursued a project outside conventional programs, the current offerings were not helping them move forward. Yet, these are the students who carry the seed of our institution’s entrepreneurial culture.

The main unmet need for these students was accountability from peers. Because of time constraints, it was hard for them to find other students seriously pursuing projects. Finding like-minded founders was pure chance, due to UVA’s broader counter-entrepreneurial student culture of overstretching commitments and risk-aversion. These students serious about pursuing their projects were frankly tired of encountering, in their words, “wantrepreneurs."

We thought, what if we aggregated their separate founder mindsets into a community that offers accountability in order to incubate and augment a founder’s culture? Would we then be able to propagate the entrepreneurial mindset throughout the university and shift the mainstream culture to be “more entrepreneurial?”

Works in Progress is a community of dedicated, passionate student founders across the University. It is not a club or class, it is a peer-driven community. The main purpose of Works in Progress is to build an effective support system within the University for its most advanced student entrepreneurs, who inherently possess the strongest entrepreneurial mindset and culture within the University community. At this time, last year, there were 10 known student entrepreneurial projects that were being worked on, and the majority of them were on the verge of quitting due to other priorities. A year later, we’ve pulled together 26 active projects into an active community.

What we’ve found is that the entrepreneurial mindset is caught, not taught. The entrepreneurial mindset is delicate in a single person, but, when strong in many, is most infectious through social interactions between peers. Culture develops through a larger active peer community of shared values, and with community comes the positive peer pressure for perseverance.

Zorychta, A. J., & Pyle, E. P. (2017, June), The Social Mechanism of Supporting Entrepreneurial Projects Beyond the Classroom Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29012

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