Sam LaBine '18 had his first taste of what it meant to be an entrepreneur when he attended a Startup Weekend in Fargo, ND. Startup Weekend is in many ways a unique global organization that brings together entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs, and it puts groups of them in a meeting space for 54 hours. During that time together they pitch their business ideas to each other, critique them, and test them out for their viability. It's a meeting at which creativity is the order of the day, and it obviously made a deep impression on Sam. An entrepreneur was what he wanted to be, and the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at Saint John's University was the perfect place to develop his skills.
I recently saw Sam and his parents at the annual McNeely Center awards dinner. Each year the dinner recognizes the cohort of students who are about to graduate, and it also recognizes their creative efforts during their time in the program. For two years they've worked with fellow students to share ideas as each has gone through the process of building a business on campus. And the roster of businesses was impressive that evening. Examples included Neverest Outfitters, a company that makes responsibly-sourced bags and accessories, and Todo Possible, a non-profit dedicated to providing education to Hispanic elementary students in central Minnesota.
That evening Sam and twelve fellow students from Saint John's and the College of Saint Benedict were introduced as members of the newest cohort of Entrepreneurial Scholars. What awaits them over the next two years is an array of experiences that will both inspire and challenge them. They will visit alumni who themselves run successful businesses in Hong Kong, Silicon Valley, New York, and throughout Minnesota. They will meet regularly with alumni and faculty mentors who will guide them through the process of starting a business and the economics of running and growing a successful business. And finally, and most important of all, they will test the waters by creating their own business.
So what has Sam set his eyes on for a business venture? There are really two parts to his initiative, and the first relates to his recent diagnosis as a sufferer of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Managing that disease requires a restrictive, anti-inflammatory diet, and Sam has decided to focus his entrepreneurial energy on the health and nutrition sector to solve a problem that he has struggled with. Since most of the snacks that are commercially available are full of ingredients that he can't eat, his goal is the creation of a snack company that offers gluten-, soy- and dairy-free alternatives to what's readily available on store shelves. And Sam plans to dedicate a portion of the profits to research on underfunded and orphan diseases.
Sam's second venture relates to the Startup Weekend that first piqued his imagination. In consultation with Center director Pat Maxwell '66, Sam realized that the McNeely Center and Saint John's were ideally-suited to host their own Startup Weekend. And Sam intends to take it one step further by linking the 120 participants at Saint John's with simultaneous Startup Weekends in Cairo, Egypt, and Cape Town, South Africa. On November 6-8, 2015, the three gatherings will be video-linked by satellite, allowing dozens of entrepreneurs from around the world to share their ideas and dreams.
Sam is now one of over 120 students who have been named Entrepreneurial Scholars at the McNeely Center in the course of its ten years. In addition to them, however, hundreds of other students have benefited from the Center's programs and courses. Be they Global Business Leadership, economics, accounting or majors from elsewhere in the curriculum, the McNeely Center has been the avenue by which they've explored and tested their own ideas, even as they help classmates on the road to entrepreneurship. And as Sam has already discovered, the opportunities for growth are wide open, because the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well at the McNeely Center.
[Editor's note: In celebration of its ten years, the McNeely Center has embarked on a program to build a $1 million endowment in support of the Entrepreneurial Scholars Program. If you would like to be part of this program, contact one of the development officers listed when you click "Contact Us" below.]