Global Entrepreneurship Week at York College: A year-long celebration
During one week a year in November known as Global Entrepreneurship Week, there is a spotlight put on innovation and entrepreneurship, where thousands of organizations and individuals around the world engage in entrepreneurial activity to create, inspire, and collaborate.
These two elements are no stranger to the J.D. Brown Center or York College as a whole. They are present all throughout the year and involve students, faculty, and community members doing brilliant and amazing things.
While the number of examples of entrepreneurial spirit at York College are far too many to list, here are of few that are sure to make you say “WOW!”
A NEW VENTURE
One may not expect the next innovation in the natural drug market to come from a student, but that is exactly what senior biology major Ben Nkapbela is striving for.
It all began a few years ago when an ex-girlfriend of Nkapbela’s was experiencing extreme pain and discomfort during her menstrual cycle.
“I began researching natural products, as well Native American remedies in order to see how they would react with one another,” says Nkapbela.
Utilizing equipment he had available to him, Nkapbela theorized that using different chemical compounds from natural sources could produce a greater chemical concoction than standard over-the-counter medication.
“I reached out to the University of Maryland to see if they could offer any guidance,” Nkapbela states. “They got me in touch with one of their partners, a biotech company working with hemp”
This initial success gave Nkapbela the idea for his recently formed company, Fiction Formulations & Services, LLC, which is comprised of Nkapbela and a number of other York College and University of Maryland students. The company is a Contract Research Organization (CRO) that conducts research and development for pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical, and biotechnological companies.
Nkapbela has also created a unique web application that uses data mining to pull chemical dosages from research articles and then run them through an algorithm, producing a clean database of biologically active and compound synergistic results.
Recently taking up residency in an office in the J.D. Brown Center Student Incubator, Nkapbela and his company have big, but achievable, goals for the future.
“We’re creating genetically engineered constructs for testing drug combos in a cell-based platform,” Nkapbela explains. “Basically, we’ll be able to test the effects of compounds without the lengthy trial of human and animal testing.
Nkapbela is optimistic about the future.
“This type of research is very new, and with the recent decriminalization of cannabis in about a dozen states, the need for the research is immense.” He continues, “Ancient remedies combined with modern drug combinations is innovative, and we’ll soon be looking into patents, toxicity testing, and new compound formulation.”
BUILDING FOR FUTURE INNOVATION
Dataforma serves as one of the construction industry’s largest providers of web-based management software. They work with construction companies across the country on everything from CRM to service management.
The company has served as the anchor tenant for the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship at York College and has maintained a strong connection with the College and its students.
Vince Moley, Director of Product Development at Dataforma, works very closely with many of the interns.
“Logistically, YCP students have a different experience at Dataforma compared to somewhere else; they can just walk to work,” Moley adds. “We have a lot of positions inherently for part-time interns. There’s a fast ramp up and they’re meant for students to ‘graduate’ out of the position.”
The interns at Dataforma are grateful for the relationship between the College and the company, as they are able to get work experience and learn valuable lessons by walking right out their back door.
Phil Norris, a junior computer science major who worked on custom templates for Dataforma, says that the convenience of the internship cannot get any better, but he also says how well it aligns with his major.
“It’s priceless info that makes my major very hands-on,” Norris says. “I’m going to take this knowledge with me in my career.”
Derek McClellan, a senior computer science major who worked on front-end applications, echoes that point, stating, “You can only talk about the industry so much. This internship gave me a perspective on things that I can’t learn in class.”
Despite the positive outlook from the students, the internship isn’t easy.
“You have plenty of chances to mess up,” says McClellan, “But you also have the opportunity to fix your mistakes. They don’t micromanage you, but give you the confidence to figure things out on your own.”
“It’s a very open environment,” Norris iterates.” If I have a question I’m able to talk with others to get those questions answered.”
After such a rewarding internship, there are a lot of directions interns can go utilizing what they learned during their time at Dataforma. McClellan, though, hopes to stay local.
“I would absolutely love to get a job at Dataforma,” McClellan says. “It’s more than a team there; you’re all friends.”
Lucky for Derek, that is a fairly realistic goal.
“Our tech jobs are hired exclusively through interns,” says Moley. “We invest a lot of time in our interns to create potential hires.”
Innovation is not solely tied to businesses and the practical side of things, but is able to find its home quite nicely in the curriculum of York College. The entrepreneurship program at York College is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, where it has grown from just four students at its launch to over 70 individuals who are currently taking entrepreneurship as their major or minor.
One such innovation comes in the form of a partnership between the Business and Music departments to create one of the college’s first joint majors: Music Production and Entrepreneurship.
This major will teach students how to be successful as a “self-starter” in the music industry with the added benefit of learning the business side of fields such as audio production, artist management, and more.
“We know that this is something our students and prospective students have been looking for,” says Dr. Jay Azriel, Director of the Entrepreneurship program at York College. “The major has taken off with 13 students in its debut this fall.”
Additionally, the entrepreneurship program is in the process of updating several of its courses to better prepare students for their careers, whether starting and running a business or becoming a corporate entrepreneur.
“We’ve been doing the same curriculum for a while,” states Azriel. “I wanted to innovate and try something new that would add even more value for the students.”
The introductory course, ENT150, for example, has been completely overhauled with a new curriculum, textbook, and experiential exercises, including the 3Week Startup assignment, which is based on the 3 Day Startup program, a program which essentially compiles six months’ worth of business startup into an intense three day weekend.
“This assignment’s inspiration was the result of attending the J.D. Brown Center’s spring 2018 ‘Spartan Startup’ program,” says Azriel. “This assignment challenges students to examine a problem from a customers’ perspective to develop a solution that will create value for the target market.”
Adding value is a key part of any business, and the students of the entrepreneurship program can tell you that better than anyone.
CONNECTING CAMPUS AND COMMUNITY
The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at York College promotes the College's positive relationship with the local community and is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in York County. With locations and staff both on campus and in downtown York, the CCE is expanding the boundaries of learning into the environs surrounding York College.
In the spring of 2018, the CCE partnered with the J.D. Brown Center to host the College’s first-ever startup weekend, Spartan Startup. This event, based on the 3 Day Startup program from the University of Texas at Austin, allows for budding student and community entrepreneurs to experience the ups and downs of starting a business.
Participants had the opportunity to delve into the world of business startup by developing ideas, forming teams, conducting live market research, and presenting their final product to a panel of local investors and entrepreneurs.
Spartan Startup returns again in the spring of 2019 and will provide another opportunity for College and community collaboration in a supportive and entrepreneurial environment.