Engaging entrepreneurs

By Erin Miller


Turner Chair of Entrepreneurship Dr. Gerald Hills leads a committee of Bradley faculty who are working to create a School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation that would extend entrepreneurship education outside the Foster College of Business Administration and into the University’s four other colleges.

Through growing small businesses in the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship and providing students from all disciplines a top-notch entrepreneurial education, Bradley University’s entrepreneurship program has secured its rank among the top 1 percent in the country.

During her 26-year career working in human resources, Doris Symonds developed a dream. Armed with an MBA, plenty of charisma, and three decades of experience in finance and negotiations, Symonds became determined to help other women take more control of their careers and their money.

In 2003, she set out to start her own company, Teaching and Learning for Knowledge (TALK). While known to some as a “one-woman networking tornado,” Symonds wasn’t sure how to create her own business the right way. She needed a mentor and turned for help to Bradley’s Turner Center for Entrepreneurship.

Established in 2001 by a gift from Robert Turner ’77 MBA ’78 and his wife, Carolyn, the Turner Center brings together entrepreneurial education and research to provide Bradley students and individuals in the community free advice and assistance in starting small businesses or expanding existing ones.

For Symonds, it provided all the necessary resources for launching TALK. “They taught me how to write a business plan, how to register my business, and how to get the word out,” Symonds says of the Turner Center. “I tell everyone to start there. They have everything you need to start your own business.”

With the help of the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship, Peorian Doris Symonds created her business, Teaching and Learning for Knowledge (TALK), which has been thriving for eight years.

With the help of the Turner Center, Symonds has created a thriving company that helps other women start their own small businesses. She has been featured by a number of media outlets, including CNNMoney.com, and last year was named “Women in Business Champion of the Year” in her six-state region by the Small Business Administration.

Symonds credits much of her success to her mentor, Ken Klotz, director of programs at the Turner Center, and Ross Miller, director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Bradley. “They are truly geniuses with an enormous amount of experience and love for entrepreneurship, and they made me feel confident and successful when I was a little apprehensive starting out.”

The Turner Center’s impact

TALK is one of about 350 businesses the Turner Center has helped establish during the past decade. “Our clients create about 400 jobs per year that didn’t exist before,” says Klotz. “The Turner Center is not just a small-business starter but a job-creation engine as well, and we take immense pride in that.”

The Turner Center is comprised of the Illinois Small Business Development Center and the International Trade Center. Through these two sub-centers, Bradley students and individuals in the community can access business startup assistance, business plan advice, management training seminars, marketing ideas, financial statement analysis, and international marketplace advice.

The most fundamental of the Turner Center’s services is perhaps the biweekly workshop “Starting a Business in Illinois,” which nearly 200 people attend per year. “It teaches the basics of starting a company and lets individuals know what they are about to embark on,” Klotz says. “The serious ones come back for one-on-one advice, at which point we guide them through the remainder of the startup process.”

While the Turner Center measures its outcomes in a variety of ways, Klotz says the proof is found throughout the Peoria community. “Our biggest accomplishment over the past decade is watching our clients’ businesses take off. Seeing someone start a business is sort of like watching a child walk for the first time. You nurture and protect them and guide them, and then they are ready to take that first step on their own.”

Especially in uncertain economic times, resources like the Turner Center are essential, Klotz adds. “Many scholarly people have referred to this as the start of the entrepreneurial age. We had the agricultural age, the manufacturing age, and the information age. But now, many believe we are on the cusp of the entrepreneurial age. There has been an explosion of entrepreneurship activity on and off college campuses.”

The resources at the Turner Center are among the many reasons Bradley’s undergraduate entrepreneurship program was recently named 20th in the country by Entrepreneur magazine.

“A lot of pieces led to that ranking,” says Dr. Gerald Hills, who holds the endowed Turner Chair in Entrepreneurship. “Out of 2,000 schools, that puts Bradley in the top 1 percent.”

Educating the entrepreneurs of tomorrow

Bradley recruited Dr. Hills in 2009 to help grow Bradley’s entrepreneurship program and attain national distinction. The author or editor of more than 100 articles and 25 books on entrepreneurship, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 32nd annual Babson Entrepreneurship Research Conference in June 2011. Dr. Hills says his goal for Bradley is to plant “entrepreneurship seeds” across campus.

 “We need to grow entrepreneurship education,” Dr. Hills says. “Entrepreneurship is not a phenomenon that’s solely in business. There are future entrepreneurs in communications, biology, English, art, everywhere. Anything we can do to let students across campus know they are capable of starting their own businesses is a step in the right direction.”

Dr. Hills chairs Bradley President Joanne Glasser’s Committee on Entrepreneurship and Innovation, comprised of faculty members from Bradley’s five colleges. The committee spearheaded a recent initiative to explore creating a School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which will provide opportunities for students of all majors to pursue education and activities centered on entrepreneurship.

“Essentially, we are putting together programs and activities for today’s students that will answer tomorrow’s needs,” Dr. Hills says. “The next several years will determine the future of our economic philosophy in the United States, and it’s critically important that entrepreneurship be a major component of that thinking.

“We’re optimistic that faculty in the various colleges will endorse our efforts to offer more entrepreneurship courses and create an entrepreneurship minor for all students. While there are no promises, we are confident that we can prepare someone in theater or chemistry to have a successful small business.”

Bradley introduced the entrepreneurship major in 2004. Students take classes like Entrepreneurial Creativity, the Entrepreneurial Experience, Social Entrepreneurship, and Managing Entrepreneurial Growth.  The School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation would build on that by offering a minor in entrepreneurship available to all students, starting an entrepreneurship speaker series, beginning an entrepreneurship mentoring program, and offering unique entrepreneurship courses in each college.

“Bradley is fortunate to have exceptional faculty members who are working together to provide the best possible entrepreneurship education to students across campus,” Dr. Hills says. “We have outstanding entrepreneurship professors like Eden Blair collaborating with professors such as Dr. Rob Prescott in English, which is unheard of on most college campuses.”

Outside the classroom, Bradley offers an array of entrepreneurship opportunities for students, including the annual Project Springboard Business Plan Competition, which provides real-world experience in business plan development and a prize package for the winning teams that includes more than $120,000 in startup support.

Bradley also is the national headquarters of the Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization (CEO), which has 235 chapters nationwide. Dr. Hills founded CEO in 1997.

“What is increasingly setting Bradley apart is more depth campus-wide in course offerings, extracurricular activities, and support programs than is typical of other schools,” Dr. Hills says. “That’s what makes us different.”