Lead Generation

Entrepreneurial Thinking Expanded at William & Mary

By Leslie McCullough M.B.A. ’17

When Nick Dantzlerward ’22 arrived at William & Mary his freshman year, he looked for a place on campus to explore his passion for entrepreneurship. He was happy to discover the Alan B. Miller Entrepreneurship Center and a whole new way of thinking.

“At first, I was under the impression that entrepreneurship was all luck based,” says Dantzlerward, who is a government major. “I’ve discovered that there is a process for developing entrepreneurial thinking to work through all kinds of challenging ideas.”

Efforts to support entrepreneurship at William & Mary were brought to life in 2009 through a generous investment by Alan Miller ’58, D.P.S. ’14 to create the Miller Center in the Raymond A. Mason School of Business. The center also continued to benefit from the private support of many donors throughout the For the Bold campaign.

In 2019, President Katherine Rowe accelerated and amplified William & Mary’s entrepreneurial movement by allocating resources from the President’s Strategic Investment Fund, which was created through an anonymous alumna’s $1.5 million gift to enable President Rowe to invest in key priorities. The unrestricted resources were used to expand to a second location and create the 7,000-square-foot Entrepreneurship Hub in Tribe Square on Richmond Road.

Powered by programming from the Miller Center’s team, the hub has become a regional center for entrepreneurial thinking. It offers co-working space, makerspace access, networking opportunities and mentorship. It also manages the area’s business incubator, Launchpad, which brings entrepreneurs and students together for collaboration and creative thinking.

“We’ve created an incredible community. This is the center of gravity for entrepreneurial thinking on campus and in the region, mixing many different audiences in one space,” says the center’s executive director, Graham Henshaw.

Unlike many university-based entrepreneurial centers that focus primarily on launching startup businesses, William & Mary teaches students a highly versatile set of skills and a mindset that will help them solve complicated problems in any setting.

As part of the center’s vision, Henshaw devised eight pillars of entrepreneurial thinking to help guide the process. The pillars include opportunity discovery, failing wisely, improvisation, collaboration, openness to risk, tolerance for ambiguity, grit and self-direction.

Graham Henshaw (right), executive director of the Alan B. Miller Entrepreneurship Center, talks with Nick Dantzlerward ’22. The center teaches a versatile set of skills that will help students solve problems in any setting. Photo by Alfred Herczeg

“Our students are our secret sauce. They are at the core of all our operations,” says Henshaw of the 20 student workers who help execute the center’s more than 100 annual events.

One of the hub’s most popular programs is the weekly Rocket Pitch competition, which gives students 90 seconds to pose a problem, the addressable market, current solutions and their own solution. The Rocket Pitch is what first brought Dantzlerward to the Miller Center.

“I lost many Rocket Pitches until I started to build my technical understanding of the empathy and customer focus that goes into entrepreneurial thinking,” says Dantzlerward. He now serves as the chief coordinator for the Ferguson Innovation Challenge, a program that allows five student teams to develop real, entrepreneurial solutions for the largest U.S. distributor of plumbing supplies.

“What makes William & Mary so exceptional is that it gives students access to such a broad range of experiences that a lot of other schools don’t offer,” says Dantzlerward, who plans to start Marine Corps Officer Candidates School next summer. “The university provides a more comprehensive education that helps students develop their future vision.”

The university’s focus on entrepreneurial thinking remains one of President Rowe’s strategic initiatives and the skills gained have the potential to extend far beyond what is learned during a student’s years on campus.

“As the impact from the pandemic continues to unfold, there is little doubt that we will encounter a new normal in many aspects of our lives,” says Henshaw. “Now more than ever, diverse skills and mindsets are needed to navigate new challenges and changes in almost every field. The students see this movement afoot and they want to be part of it.”