Entrepreneurial Minds, Please Apply

Guest Correspondence

One of my favorite lines from this month’s press conference announcing the Consortium of Colleges on the Creative Coast didn’t come from the dais. It came from the crowd gathered in Selby Auditorium on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus to learn what C4 is all about.

“I applaud you for your entrepreneurialism!” is what Sharon Hillstrom, head of the Bradenton Area EDC, told the college and university presidents assembled at the front of the room. Those higher-ed leaders had just laid out their objectives and aspirations for an unprecedented collaboration of our region’s major colleges.

In a nutshell, the leaders of our community’s unique mix of colleges—which serve almost 20,000 students when you put them all together—have some big ideas for leveraging and sharing their collective resources to maximize opportunities for students. In the process, they aim to build (and brand) this region as a higher-education hub, one that attracts businesses and entrepreneurs hungry for top workforce talent.

“Think of us holistically—it’s like a ‘multiversity’” is how Ringling College of Art and Design president Larry Thompson put it.

“It’s like a dream come true for me” is how Hillstrom described it from the economic-development perspective.

Entrepreneurial. Perhaps not the signature trait of “higher education” in the minds of many of you reading this. But it does fit our local college leaders—from New College and State College of Florida, as well as Ringling College and USFSM—as was clearly on display at the C4 announcement.

Indeed, those hallmarks of successful entrepreneurs—creativity and innovative thinking—aren’t solely the domain of start-ups. That’s a message one of our country’s most recognizable entrepreneurs, Shark Tank star Daymond John, will bring to our community next month.

John is Gulf Coast’s guest for our Better Together community education luncheon on February 15. From his start selling hand-sewn T-shirts on the streets of Queens with a budget of just $40, John turned his FUBU line of urban apparel into a global brand worth billions. His personal journey is a quintessential rags-to-riches story. 

But he’s not coming here to simply say, “If I can do it, so can you.” John is a tenacious goal-setter and tireless learner. And he believes applying an entrepreneurial mindset is equally important in big companies and mature organizations that seek to maintain or gain a competitive edge. Like colleges that want to stand apart as nimble and flexible among their stereotypically rigid and creaky counterparts. 

C4 encourages me that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well here on the Gulf Coast. As a community, we should nurture and reward it. We’re headed in the right directions—onward and upward. But we can go farther, higher. I hope you’ll join us on February 15 for an inspirational lift.

To learn more about Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s Better Together luncheon, go to GulfCoastCF.org.

Mark Pritchett is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

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