NEW WILMINGTON – A few years ago, Westminster College’s Entrepreneurship Center had eight students.
Since bringing in longtime businessman Eric Gaber as the school’s entrepreneur-in-residence, the center’s participation increased to 24 last year. But an even greater success was to come – 55 students are in the program this year, Gaber said.
Youngstown SCORE is on a similar upward trend. Ron Emery, chairman of SCORE’s board of directors, said the group’s participation has increased from 11 volunteer business mentors to 40.
So it’s fitting that the two business mentoring entities are planning to join forces. Emery said SCORE is planning to increase its presence in Mercer and Lawrence counties, starting with a kickoff event from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 22, at the entrepreneur center in Thompson-Clark Hall on campus.
Youngstown SCORE is a regional chapter of a national group of active and retired executives who offer their experience and knowledge as mentors for young entrepreneurs and business students. Westminster’s entrepreneurship center provides the same services for students and New Wilmington-area residents who are starting businesses or are hoping to in the future.
Gaber said the entrepreneurship center is working with 21 business start-ups, including seven student-run companies. The center has recently expanded into headquarters in Thompson-Clark Hall to include a marketing material lab with devices that can put a company’s logo on almost anything – mugs, embroidered shirts, letterheads and more.
The center also has a classroom and a meeting room with a corporate-level, 1,500-pound conference table. While the entrepreneurship center has been a presence at the LindenPointe Business Campus in Hermitage, Gaber said he thought it was important that it have a college campus presence.
The program includes an entrepreneurship minor within the business school, and the increased enrollment speaks to enthusiasm among students.
With the growth of online marketing and sales, Gaber said businesses no longer need to be developed in already prosperous urban areas. Entrepreneurs can create and build successful businesses anywhere with a solid transportation infrastructure, like Mercer or Lawrence counties.
“Our big theme here, as well as SCORE is, ‘Why not?’ You don’t need to be from New York or Los Angeles,” Gaber said. “Why can we not start a billion-dollar company here at Westminster?”
Why not indeed, said Emery of SCORE.
His group mentors young business people, which he said makes the cooperative effort with Westminster appropriate.
“We educate and help entrepreneurs,” he said. “What a perfect project for us to work with Westminster College.”
Both Gaber and Emery have extensive experience running companies. Gaber said this enables the entrepreneurship students to learn real-world lessons about networking and marketing.
Gaber still has a commercial real-estate business, but is looking to divest so he can focus all of his interests on the Westminster College program.
The school works with other universities, including Pitt and Carnegie-Mellon, so students can meet with corporate heavy hitters. Dante Sienko, Westminster’s entrepreneurship program’s president, and David Durbin, the vice president, said they appreciate the efforts by Gaber and Emery to bring corporate leaders to meet with the students.
Durbin, of Youngstown, said he wants to go into logistics and supply after college.
“There’s one thing about logistics,” he said. “It’s always going to be there because we are always going to need it.”
Sienko, from Gibsonia, Allegheny County, plans to start with commercial real estate, but said his passion has to do with the future of vehicles.
He has embraced the program’s “Why not?” mantra.
“I was really shocked and impressed that Pittsburgh is now known for the self-driving cars,”: Sienko said. “It’s why not Pittsburgh” Why not Lawrence County? Why not Westminster?”
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