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Monday, Jul 24, 2017

USF entrepreneur program nurtures students’ curiosity

ST. PETERSBURG - To get a read on the entrepreneurship program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, consider the duties of visiting instructor Nathan Schwagler, the program’s “Creative-In-Residence.”
Really. It’s on his business card.
“I consider my job to be the flipper of the light switch in kids,” Schwagler said. “My job is to take young people and turn them on, to get them curious about how they can shape their future and how they can use the models of entrepreneurial education to help them create the future life that they want to live.
“I don’t think anyone should have to be destined for a cube, and that message really resonates with young people,” he said.
The faculty in the USF St. Petersburg entrepreneurship program appears to be flipping a lot of light switches. One student has established a mobile waterless eco-friendly car cleaning company. Another is researching a juice delivery business.
The first graduate of the program is involved in two startups that he can tell you about, two in development that he won’t tell you about, and two St. Petersburg nonprofits.
“It’s one of the most non-traditional majors you can take, I’d say, in the country,” said Reuben Pressman, that original entrepreneurial scholar, who was the only graduate from the program’s debut class of 2011.
“Traditional business is teaching you 10-year-old curriculum. The professors are reading power points and telling you things. Here, they’re like, ‘OK, here’s the idea of the class, pick a project, and do it. I’ll help you when you need help.’ It’s very self-motivated, it’s very self-directed.
“Instead of learning these old skills, you’re learning how to solve problems, you’re learning how to challenge assumptions, you’re learning how to adapt to any situation.”
The young program on the young campus is earning nationwide accolades. This calendar year alone, it has earned several high-profile awards:
It was named Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Program in the United States by the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
Daniel James Scott, associate director of the program, has been named 2013 Small Business Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration South Florida District.
The school’s Entrepreneurship Club won the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization Startup Simulation Challenge, a two-month computer simulation of launching a new business, for the second year in a row.
And USF St. Petersburg has just been named the new headquarters of the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
Why the buzz here of all places?
“When we started the program we wanted to make sure there were no boundaries between the entrepreneurial community and the academic side that we’re trying to build,” said Scott.
“Since we were fortunate enough to be able to gain a lot of traction and support in the community, our students have been able to go out and do more things than they would normally in any other entrepreneurship program.”
One of those
students is Nick Price of Palm Harbor, a senior in information systems management who is in the USF St. Petersburg entrepreneurship club. A friend was taking a New Venture Creation class and approached Price about washing cars the green way.
“He said, ‘I have an idea for us to make a lot of money,’ and I said, ‘Throw it at me,’” Price said. “And I fell in love with it.”
CitySleekers was born, with a fleet of bicycle-bound car washers toting organic compounds in spray bottles to break down and emulsify dirt and grime. For $25, CitySleekers comes to you.
How’s business?
“It’s good. It’s steadily increasing,” said Price, who acknowledges he has to win over skeptics who think pouring gallons of water over a vehicle is the way to go. “Once you show them how it works, they love it.”
Now, he’s targeting workplaces and valet services to allow his workers to clean while car owners are otherwise occupied. “We’re super stoked about it,” he said.
USF St. Petersburg last week celebrated Entrepreneurship Day on campus, and one of the participants was Samuel Walker, who is researching and preparing to launch EarthLife Juice Co. Walker handed out samples of his vegetable- and fruit-based juices and collected surveys he hopes will provide valuable market research.
“The thing about juicing is that it contains a lot of the nutritional value that you would get in the raw vegetable — 90 percent of it — but it’s a much more efficient way of taking it in,” said Walker, a senior in the entrepreneurship program.
His juice delivery company would be “a way to bring nutritional value quickly and easily to your home, without having to buy a $150-plus juicer, having to clean it, having to get all the produce, and worry about using it before it goes bad.”
Walker’s idea also sprang from a New Venture Creation class. Such coursework illustrates how the university is adapting to a changing marketplace, said USF St. Petersburg Chancellor William Hogarth.
“Education is being looked at a number of different ways today,” Hogarth said. “The entrepreneurship program is one that has given people the opportunity to get that business sense, to develop different types of business opportunities.
“I think it’s a sign of the times.”

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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