Taking a Corner of the World: Entrepreneurship Grows at Mason

Posted: November 14, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Jim Wolfe with students
Jim Wolfe’s new position as entrepreneur in residence in the School of Management is just one indicator that George Mason is pushing entrepreneurship to the forefront.

By Tara Laskowski

“Entrepreneurship is about saving the world.”

When Jim Wolfe says this, he’s not exaggerating. The new entrepreneur in residence and assistant professor in the School of Management is passionate about his ideas, and he is not afraid to show it.

“Entrepreneurs bring applications of science and innovative ideas to the forefront,” says Wolfe. “Sure, we need big companies, but it is the small companies thriving on the Internet or in the shadows of the big guys that bring the new ideas into action.”

Wolfe’s position in the School of Management is just one of many indicators that George Mason is pushing entrepreneurship to the forefront. With its location in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, which is one of three major biotech and software centers in the nation, George Mason offers unique resources for the entrepreneur. And Wolfe, as well as other faculty members and administrators at the university, are eager to propel these resources to reach further out to the community.

Wolfe knows all about entrepreneurship because he has been practicing it for more than 20 years. He founded his own economic development and international investment consulting firm in 1989, a software development and services company in 1997 and a private business consulting firm, J Street Consulting, in 2001.

Jim Wolfe with students
Jim Wolfe with students in the School of Management.

But beyond having the experience, Wolfe knows how to teach his strategies and knowledge to others. Prior to joining Mason, he taught at the University of Maryland and developed his own online textbook in entrepreneurship. At Mason, he’s teaching MBA-level courses in entrepreneurship, a business planning course and a course on managing entrepreneurial growth.

This enthusiasm and passion for teaching are not lost on his students. “Professor Wolfe is the fire. He has been lighting a fire under the MBA Program since he got here, trying to take it in a new direction and really building up its reputation,” says MBA student Patrick Williams.

The Entrepreneurial Student

But long before Wolfe was hired by George Mason, the university was encouraging and witnessing the entrepreneurial spirit in students and faculty.

This past year, deans from several schools founded the Center for Entrepreneurship Development to promote innovative teaching, collaborative research and best practices in entrepreneurship. The first annual Research Conference on Entrepreneurship was held last year and was so successful that another one will be held Dec. 2. New Century College, the School of Public Policy, the School of Management and other colleges and schools across George Mason are contributing to the entrepreneurial movement.

In the School of Management alone, entrepreneurial students and alumni are seizing the opportunities provided by the university’s location and running with them. In just the past few semesters, more than 30 students or student groups have started businesses while at Mason or after graduating, including:

  • Marketing senior Brandon Labman and government and international politics senior Tommy Moore, ’05, who founded a for-profit staffing agency that matches recent graduates with employers. ROCS (Responsible Outgoing College Students) won the students a regional Global Student Entrepreneur Award.
  • Ola Bamgbose, MS Technology Management ’99, who founded e-Management Consultants, a company providing IT management and advisory services to CIOs in the federal government. Her company has grown quickly in the past six years and last year was ranked 19th on Washington Technology’s Fast 50 list.
  • Sylvanus Bent, MS Technology Management student, who founded Bent Systems Inc., a firm specializing in Radio Frequency Indentification (RFID) software and supply chain management. Bent was chosen to present a business plan for potential investors at the Business Alliance of George Mason University’s Grubstake Breakfast last spring.
  • Frank Strickland, MS Technology Management ’05 and cofounder of Edge Consulting, who is turning his capstone project for the Technology Management Program into an entrepreneurial effort. Strickland and his partners are testing a new water purification system, and after the system’s performance is tested and certified, Frank and his partners will launch a new company to take the system to market.

“There is a notion of religious fervor among entrepreneurs,” says Wolfe. “We want to make money, of course, but we are also changing the world in our own little corner.”

Classroom Projects Moving Beyond the Grade

In one case, an entire class pulled together to partner for an entrepreneurial effort that, as Wolfe might say, really might make a positive difference in the world.

The first graduating class of the Bioscience Management Program in the School of Management used its capstone project as the jumping-off point for a new company, Neurocor Inc. Neurocor specializes in discovery, development and marketing of drugs for the treatment of neurological disorders.

The class spent more than a year developing a business plan for the company. After graduating last spring, the seven members of the class met with a lawyer to formally launch their company.

The company also received a provisional patent for a drug originally developed by one of the graduates, Farouk Karoum. Karoum is a former research scientist at the National Institutes of Health, and the drug he developed will help in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

“Currently, standard treatment of Parkinson’s involves replacing lost dopamine in the brain, which is the underlying cause of Parkinson’s,” explains Karoum. “Levodopa, the chemical precursor of dopamine, is the most commonly used drug for replacement therapy. Our product, Dopacor, is designed to improve on current levodopa treatments and address the limitations that exist.”

The success of entrepreneurial students at George Mason seems to be growing each year. J.P. Auffret, director of the Technology Management Program in SOM, believes that the quality of the students, as well as the continuing focus on the concepts and programs that develop these attitudes, helps immensely with this success.

Students in Bioscience management program
After graduating last spring, students in the first class of the Bioscience Management Program met with a lawyer from Washington, D.C., to officially start their new business, Neurocor Inc.
Creative Services photos

“These are top-notch students who have experience and have ideas,” he says. “We simply give them the tools, the training and the techniques so they can carry out these ideas.”

These students and their efforts are examples of what Wolfe defines as an entrepreneur.

“An entrepreneur is an agent of change. He or she attacks a problem without regard to resources at hand, figures it out and finds ways to work around it. An entrepreneur sees something that seems impossible and asks, ‘What else can I do?'”

And by giving students the empowerment to think in that way, Wolfe himself is building a better workforce for the future and, in his own way, changing the world.

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