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President's Corner: December

Another semester is about to end at Old Dominion University. Finals will be completed this week, and we expect to award 1,600 degrees at our winter commencement ceremonies on Saturday.

No doubt, many students, faculty and staff members plan some well-deserved R&R during the holiday break. But I'm sure at least one group won't skip a beat - our industrious corps of student and alumni business owners.

Our campus is humming with entrepreneurial activity. That's due in large part to the generosity of alumnus Mark and Tammy Strome, who donated $11 million to the university in 2014 for entrepreneurial initiatives inside and outside the classroom. Their gift, in turn, has fired the creativity and energy of our students and faculty members.

Their pace is so hectic that I don't have room to enumerate all of the recent developments in this column. But here are some entrepreneurial highlights from the last couple of months:

  • U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who knows a thing or two about running a profitable enterprise, last month visited the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, which helps students start and expand their businesses. Putting his businessman's hat back on, he offered them advice, contacts and encouragement.
  • Our first Lion's Lair event, also in November, offered cash prizes to the best startup ideas advanced by students or alumni in a "Shark Tank"-style competition. A recent alum, Mike Beyrodt, won the "best in show" award, worth $6,000, for his Pull Start Fire invention, which offers a simple and safe way to light a fire outdoors. Mike has taken full advantage of ODU's resources to launch his successful business. As an undergraduate, he frequented the Entrepreneurial Center. Now Mike is a regular at the new ODU Innovation Center - Norfolk, a partnership with the city to provide collaborative space and a hub for brainstorming ideas.
  • The first expo showcasing our young entrepreneurs last spring was so successful that we held another in November. The recent Student Company Expo spotlighted 20 student-run businesses selling crafts and inventions you probably hadn't even imagined - socks in your favorite high school's colors, flavored bacon, even an online service for fraternities and sororities to manage the recruitment process.
  • On the same day as the expo, we inducted three longtime business leaders into the Strome Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame: Jack Ezzell '11 (honorary degree), who is founder and CEO of Zel Technologies; Mark Geddis '90, chairman of Geddis Holdings, and Paul Hirschbiel Jr. '10 (honorary degree), chairman of 757 Angels. Another alum, Venkat Maroju, who graduated in 1995 and is chief executive officer of SourceTrace Systems, was named Entrepreneur of the Year.
  • Finally, the Strome College of Business' Landmark Executive-in-Residence series brought one of the most famous entrepreneur couples, Chip and Joanna Gaines, hosts of HGTV's "Fixer Upper," to the Ted. They intrigued students and others in the audience with the story of their success.

Chip Gaines also thanked Jeff Tanner, our business dean, for taking a chance on him when Dr. Tanner was a professor at Baylor University and Gaines was an admittedly lackluster student there. Gaines said, "He was very encouraging for a struggling Baylor student dying for somebody to believe in him."

That's what we're all about at Old Dominion. Through an ever-growing network of services and activities, we are nurturing the next generation of young entrepreneurs, some of whom one day may rival Chip Gaines.

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