There’s a misconception about entrepreneurship that William & Mary Assistant Provost Graham Henshaw is eager to dispel. While ventures are a significant part of what he and his team at the Entrepreneurship Hub encourage, they are not the only thing.
The hub cultivates an entrepreneurial toolkit that helps people make progress on endeavors they care deeply about. That could be a startup, but the hub is just as enthusiastic when it’s a new student organization, a non-profit or a unique internship or dream job.
“We’re agnostic as to the application,” Henshaw said. “We promote a way of thinking that can be used in a wide variety of settings, and we let our patrons figure out where it can have the biggest impact.”
The hub’s primary focus is entrepreneurial thinking, a specific set of skills and a mindset that successful entrepreneurs possess. A nine-foot set of decals on a main wall at the hub makes this focal point hard to miss.
- Opportunity discovery
- Failing wisely
- Openness to risk
- Tolerance for ambiguity
“We have recruiters come through here all the time, and when they see that list on the wall, they immediately say, ‘If you have graduates like that or interns, we want them,’ because increasingly you have to think in entrepreneurial ways in whatever job you end up in,” Henshaw said.
William & Mary doubled down on the success of the hub this summer and appointed Henshaw to a university-wide position as assistant provost for entrepreneurship. The idea was to create a renewed focus on cultivating that entrepreneurial mindset across campus.
Henshaw wants to methodically support entrepreneurial thinking’s growth across campus in three domains – curricular efforts stemming from the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, professional development and careers, which is one of the central pillars of William & Mary’s Vision 2026 strategic plan.
“This matches up with some research that I’ve been doing with Chief Career Officer Kathleen Powell and two other universities, Elon and Towson, to look at the early career trajectories of students exposed to entrepreneurship,” Henshaw said.
“The early data shows that entrepreneurship students fare better in some measures of early career outcomes. Our work continues to better understand those results, and we’ve started a much-needed discussion about a broader way to assess the impact of entrepreneurship education. We want students to also see entrepreneurial thinking as a way to differentiate themselves in the job market.”
In 2019, W&M President Katherine A. Rowe accelerated and amplified the university’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 Rowe to invest in key priorities. The unrestricted resources were used to create the Entrepreneurship Hub.
With a 7,000-square-foot location in Tribe Square, the hub is a one-stop shop for undergraduates, grad students, faculty and staff and regional entrepreneurs to sharpen their skills and gain valuable support to make their ideas more than just ideas.
It’s a cutting-edge creative environment that consists of a large main space for its core programming and presentations, as well as a variety of meeting rooms and workspaces. The building is wired for streaming and was capable of hosting Zoom meetings before the pandemic made video a necessity.
Guided by a three-part model of “Learn, Engage, Build,” the hub has resources like a mentor network, micro-courses and whiteboards galore. It also has a plethora of events ranging from guest speakers featuring entrepreneurial alumni to pitch competitions and entrepreneurial ecosystem excursions.
For those wanting a deeper dive, it also has longer programs like the Tribe Ventures Accelerator, a two-semester intensive offering that helps student-run initiatives set and reach important milestones like landing a first customer or securing a grant, and Launchpad, a partnership between W&M, the City of Williamsburg, James City County and York County that works closely with regional entrepreneurs.
While there are many ways to get plugged in, connecting with the hub’s staff or a mentor is often the first step. This one-on-one attention is part of W&M’s efforts to offer the most personal education of any public university.
“I think being able to offer those one-on-one services, whether it’s meeting with a mentor or meeting with student partners or coming and pitching your idea and people give you feedback, it’s a personalized experience where you can get connected in that way and you feel like people have a stake in what you want to do,” said Sara Curtiss ’24, a marketing major and one of six student partners at the hub. “You have that support to kind of uplift you in a way to better yourself.”
The Entrepreneurship Hub has attracted well over 1,000 students from almost 50 different majors since it opened in 2019. There were more than 1,500 engagements among 650 students just last year.
In addition to students, dozens of staff have engaged in entrepreneurial programming, and faculty from across the campus as well as regional entrepreneurs have all tapped into the hub’s support infrastructure.
The mix of students engaging with entrepreneurial thinking has evolved since Henshaw joined the university in 2015. Back then, 100% of the students were from the Raymond A. Mason School of Business and almost exclusively MBAs.
Year by year, students from across campus began tapping into the resources. While the number of business school students engaging with the hub continues to climb, they now represent only about one-third of the hub’s total number of students.
This distribution is reflected on a wall display that rotates through a list of more than 100 alumni founders, showing their graduation year and major.
That diversity is why Henshaw describes his vision for entrepreneurship at William & Mary as “W&M raised to the power of entrepreneurship.”
”We’re saying this is a layer that supports the deep disciplinary knowledge that students gain from their primary major,” Henshaw said. “We’re not trying to convince people to pursue entrepreneurship instead of what they’re already doing. We’re saying ‘and’ and not ‘instead of,’ and I think that contributes to our traction. The ampersand works. We’re all in on that.”
Alexander Colton ’19, who majored in economics, computational and applied mathematics and statistics, co-founded a pharmaceutical company and frequents the hub for its abundant resources. He started his venture with fellow alumnus Joseph White ’19 when they were students and marvels at how far entrepreneurship has come at William & Mary.
“What I’ve observed from watching entrepreneurship at the university grow over time is I think that a lot of William & Mary students don’t fall well into a bucket because they’re just too smart for that,” Colton said.
“I think that’s where Entrepreneurship Hub really thrives in that it’s a place where you can go and there are going to be people that are there like Graham and (Hub Director) Brandon Hennessey who will say, ‘Hey what are you up to? Do you want to talk about something?’ And it’s just a fun place to have intellectual conversations with smart people.”
Curtiss has applied the skills she’s learned in her three years there to many of her other pursuits, including internships.
“I feel like having a venture is what comes to people’s mind a lot, but that’s such a small part of what entrepreneurship is,” Curtiss said. “It’s really any discipline of just learning how to think outside the box, take risks in what you’re doing and not being afraid to make something better.”
Often, alumni are active at the hub as both resources and consumers of its offerings.
“It’s a place where you can go and ask questions without feeling like you’re an idiot,” Colton said. “I don’t know how else to say it, but that’s a really important thing when you’re running a company and you have no idea where to turn and who to ask what questions.
“Pretty much everything at every turn, they’re going to have some sort of answer or they’re going to be able to put me in contact with somebody that has that answer.”
And while Colton taps into the value, he also creates it by providing a live case where students can see entrepreneurial thinking in action and sometimes get involved. Recently, Colton needed a 3D model of a biometric prescription bottle device printed and turned to student partner Shamsullah Ahmadzai ’25 for help. Colton later told Henshaw, “Shamsullah is exactly the type of early employee my company needs as we get started.”
Henshaw and his team at the hub have a vision where W&M is increasingly recognized by its entrepreneurial thinkers – be they students, faculty, staff or regional entrepreneurs.
“People are often very surprised when they see our alumni founder wall,” Henshaw said. “We’ll know we’ve been successful when that doesn’t create such a double take. When people encounter a W&M grad who spots a new opportunity that others missed, or a faculty member who deftly creates an MVP of a new academic program or a staff member who, through grit and improvisation, solves an important operational need, and that is par for the course, we’ll have accomplished something that has the potential to not only impact W&M, but could change the world.”
Nathan Warters, Communications Specialist