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A new University of Wyoming entrepreneurship class focuses on helping make ideas into realities

The Wyoming Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the University of Wyoming’s Honors College are offering a three-week course beginning next month to give those with creativity a chance to turn those ideas into reality. This includes opportunities for artists, scientists, activists, and entrepreneurs, among others. Wyoming Public Radio’s Hugh Cook spoke with Dr. Penelope Shihab, the center’s director, about this opportunity.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Penelope Shihab: So this course is going to be offered for the students in all the community colleges and the University of Wyoming. We're offering this for students in any major. We're trying to make this more interdisciplinary [and] we're trying to get the students who are interested or passionate [about] innovation. The students who are planning to stay in Wyoming. The students who are in different communities, and never been exposed to any kind of activities in entrepreneurship, but they would love to learn about that. This is a course targeting students who [have] big ideas, and they don't know where to start, or what resources we have, or they don't have the right connections. So we will provide all of that in this course.

Hugh Cook: You talked about being offered through UW and the seven Wyoming community colleges. Will there be an online virtual component as well as an in-person component?

PS: No, it's full in-person because it's a tour around the state. So we're taking the students to different communities in Wyoming, and we will get them to tour different sites in the state, and we will get them to also understand the regulations and the rules by legislators, also to understand the ecosystem and how much innovation entrepreneurship is supported by our government. They will have a tour at the [state] capitol during this course. They will have a small talk by our governor just to talk about the web initiative and how much he is trying to get our workforce staying and innovating in our state because we see huge potential for that. We are planning to take them to [and] I'm giving you just examples, which are confirmed now, we're taking them for example to Casper, to McGinley Innovations. It's a healthcare [operation], very successful company. They will get the chance to talk to the founder and to the team, understand the vision, understand the operations, see the place, feel the place, and get their own network directly with the leadership of the company instead of me lecturing for the students in the university about the entrepreneurs and the success stories in Wyoming. So, this is the opportunity we're trying to give to our students who will be joining our course this summer.

HC: What is the interest in the program thus far? How many organizations or people or students have expressed interest or confirmed their participation in the course?

PS: We are trying to have 20 students max for this course just to be able to manage…there is lots of traveling, long roads. We will design these conversations during the carpooling. So, this is a pilot program. It's the first one. We're piloting all of that, we're trying to see and to test the interest of the students. But so far, we're getting some numbers from our community colleges. For example, we [have] three students interested and registered already from Northwest Community College. We have some of our honors students because this program is a partnership between [the] Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Honors College at UW. So registration and all the processes going through the Honors College, and they are also promoting this program for their students. But it's not limited to the Honors College but the students who registered so far are the honors students at UW.

HC: In addition to touring some facilities and entrepreneurial initiatives throughout Wyoming, students or teams will also have the opportunity to present their ideas?

PS: So, there will be two kinds of education here. Educational sessions by instructors, so they will get entrepreneurial innovation education. For example, business models, financial models, business plan creation, different kinds of educational sessions by instructors while they are traveling. But also, they will have the practical side of entrepreneurship, by the tours and by listening for the vision and the operations and inspiration for the entrepreneurs who are going to have conversations with our students. By the end of the program, our students are going to be asked to put a business concept [forward], to put ideas they get inspired to put it on an executive summary, project concept note. We're not asking them to create a business plan, it's going to be too early for them, but if they have some ideas, while they are learning all of that, they will be presenting all of the ideas by the end of the program to judges. It’s not a competition, but they will be presenting their ideas and their projects to an audience of entrepreneurs, educators, people who are in [the] entrepreneurial ecosystem.

HC: Just looking at the website with Innovate Wyoming, in addition to this course, what are some of the other initiatives or programs, opportunities that people can participate in or learn more about through Innovate Wyoming?

PS: We are offering lots of activities in the coming months. So we started planning a speaker series. Last year, we did a workshop at the University. We did inspiring speakers just to motivate our students and to understand how people can create things and get successful here, some talks for our educators, and we're trying to bring more non-business major people. We're trying to get our students to be more exposed to entrepreneurship, if they are studying agriculture, they are studying energy or any different disciplinary [subject]. So that's the aim of the events we're trying to create. So we finished four different activities and we promoted that for everybody, so it's open for entrepreneurs, for innovators, for students, for the community, and not limited for the students. And we will continue planning and executing this all year. You will see more events coming in the coming months: workshops, speakers coming to talk about entrepreneurship and innovation, [and] student program[s] highlighting some of the winners featured on our platform. We are also trying to move the resources we have. CI [Center for Innovation] in Wyoming Center for Entrepreneurship, and innovation is part of the BRN [Business Resource Network], it's the business network. And also, we're working together as a team to provide any entrepreneurs with resources. These resources can be from Impact 307. So, Impact 307 can host some entrepreneurs or can support them if they are part of their competitions. We are part of SBDC [Small Business Development Centers]. So, if the entrepreneurs or the students are trying to start up a company, and they will need some studies, CI will direct them for example to SBDC to get some resources, some studies from SBDC. So, this is the other work we're trying to do. It's more coordinating and collaborating with other partners in the state.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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