This fall, the Alan B. Miller Entrepreneurship Center at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business will expand to the vacant property in Tribe Square. By expanding the hub to a more centralized location, the Center aims to establish the College of William and Mary as a prime producer of entrepreneurial thinkers.
“Entrepreneurial thinking will be our emphasis in this space — collaboration, creative thinking and judicious risk-taking — capacities that William and Mary students hone as they prepare to become change agents in any number of arenas,” Rowe said.
Currently there is space for four retail locations in Tribe Square on the first floor. The property on Richmond Road has previously struggled with occupying storefronts. Tribe Square has housed former local favorites like The Crust and Pita Pit, but unsteady business during off-seasons forced these establishments out of business.
The William and Mary Real Estate Foundation owns the property and while the foundation is a separate entity from the College, their mission to create a vibrant campus paved way for the hub’s expansion.
Working in conjunction with the hub is Launchpad, a business incubator servicing Williamsburg, James City County and York County. The incubator will serve as a management position and will provide students with the unique opportunity of working in close proximity to professionals.
Graham Henshaw, executive director of the Miller Center, sees the events leading up to the expansion as a serendipitous confluence of events.
“A lot of things with this scaled-up hub have been a perfect confluence of events. It is a number of different things all happening at once,” Henshaw said. “We had started the initial hub and had been generating significant traction; things were working and there was a lot of excitement. Then, we get a new president who not only gets what we are all about, but is what we are all about. She is an entrepreneurial thinker.”
The advocacy of Rowe and Henshaw has been backed by Lawrence B. Pulley, dean of the business school.
“Especially in light of the tremendous success we have enjoyed with the Miller Center at the business school, we are thrilled to be promoting entrepreneurial thinking and entrepreneurship across the campus and throughout the region,” Pulley said.
The current Entrepreneurship Center offers several ways to develop student’s entrepreneurial “thinking toolkit.” The center hosts over 100 events annually — tying weekly events like Rocket Pitch in with long-term extended projects like the Innovation Challenge.
Rocket Pitch has been one of many highlights of the center over the past years. Every week, students gather and pitch their problems, ideas and solutions, all within 90 seconds. Whoever pitches the best idea for the week walks away with 100 dollars to dedicate towards continuing their venture. Regardless of whether students walk away with the prize money, they will be connected to mentors to help develop and further their pitch.
The expansion will offer more room to host events like Rocket Pitch and will also assist makerspace access. Makerspaces around campus feature technology for producing prototypes as well as three-dimensional printers and other high-tech resources. By partnering with Launchpad, the hub will be able to provide College staffing to these spaces, making them more accessible to the entire student body.
Over the past several years, the College’s interactions with Launchpad have been limited due to its relatively inaccessible location in Newtown. The College has made efforts to do shared programming for entrepreneurs at the location but has hopes of furthering these endeavors by moving the incubator on to campus.
“If we do a workshop for students who are interested in entrepreneurship, that’s going to be interesting to entrepreneurs who are working on their ventures too,” Henshaw said. “There is not a different curriculum you would offer. There have been challenges simply because of the distance, so this expansion will also include William and Mary assuming the responsibility for managing that incubator, right here on campus.”
While a specific date has not been set for the new hubs opening, the college aims to have the new space up and operational in the fall of 2019.