DePaul is one of the country’s “most innovative schools,” according to the 2016 college rankings published by U.S. News & World Report. At the core of that deserved recognition is the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center. “We’re the bridge between the academic program and the outside world,” says Bruce Leech, the Center’s executive director. “We’ve been teaching entrepreneurship longer than anyone else—since the ‘80s, when the word barely existed—and we continue to find new ways to help students, and not just business students, turn smart ideas into viable businesses.”

Now, two new initiatives are putting students on-the-scene in entrepreneurial Chicago.

  • 1871—ranked the #1university business incubator in the US by UBI Global—is a community of 400 startups, corporations, and community partners who share resources, learn from each other, and innovate together. “Our membership in 1871—made possible by the combined contributions of the Driehaus College of Business, the College of Computing and Digital Media, the College of Law, and Academic Affairs—puts our students right in the center of the city’s ecosystem of entrepreneurship,” says Leech.  “The 1871 programs are great, but the most important advantage for our students is just being there. A few months ago I was working in our on-site office and ended up with 22 new business cards. The connections just happen, naturally.”
  • BLUE1647—part of the White House TechHire initiative which supports career training for minorities—serves 17,500 students in multiple cities. Co-founded by Emile Cambry Jr. and DePaul alumnus, Antonio Rowry, BLUE 1647 gives people skills in technology through classes and workshops and helps entrepreneurs accelerate their business by providing shared co-working-services. “BLUE1647 is a socially purposeful community that’s closely aligned with DePaul’s urban, Vincentian identity,” says Patrick J. Murphy, professor of management and entrepreneurship. “We’ve been with BLUE 1647 since the beginning, and we believe in its mission of empowering entrepreneurial individuals with technology and social purpose to unleash the talent in Chicago’s diverse communities.”
While working on his MAs in Finance and in Computational Finance, Koray Yesilli spent time at 1871 shadowing entrepreneurs, volunteering to help startups that needed his expertise, and working in a part-time job. “Just being there, you get more than you give,” he says. “You learn a lot by doing a lot—by applying what you’ve learned in class to real-world businesses, by seeing a business from every side, by learning to work on a team and communicate clearly, and even by making mistakes. 1871 is all about connections—with people, with information, with opportunities.”

Katie Sowa (MBA ’10) works out of 1871 for Future Founders, a non-profit that helps young people become entrepreneurs. “We want students, from middle school through college, to imagine another path, to think like entrepreneurs. So, we provide high-energy, dynamic programs, both inside and outside classrooms, to teach them how to solve problems creatively, how to work in teams, and how to promote their ideas and offerings.” Sowa credits DePaul with giving her the right outlook: “At DePaul, students don’t just write plans; they actually start businesses. This ‘not a lot of talk, but a lot of action’ approach translates into real-world success.”

Rowry also got his head start as a student at DePaul. “I was able to take advantage of experiential learning opportunities and network with people who were starting or running small businesses. That was so important to my personal and professional growth.” Now DePaul and BLUE 1647 are partnering to offer a coding academy to DePaul students. Funded by DePaul’s social enterprise collaborative, the program will give aspiring student entrepreneurs, from any college in the university, the skills they need to build the websites and apps instrumental to launching a new venture.
Murphy sees the two new initiatives—1871 and BLUE1647—as building on DePaul’s reputation for innovation: “At DePaul, entrepreneurship is a disciplined, serious academic endeavor. With these strategic alliances, we’re taking steps to bring the lessons to life, so that what we teach in the classroom makes as much impact as possible in the real world.”

Photo: 1871