A framed poster hangs near an entrance of Cottrell Hall, showing an eagle spreading its wings alongside a seven-word message as familiar to students as their favorite song.
“Instilling The Entrepreneurial Spirit. It’s In Our DNA.”
Kathy Elliott, the director of HPU’s Belk Entrepreneurship Center, makes sure of that.
She brings in entrepreneurs and local business people to work with students and speak to classes and members of the school’s Entrepreneurship Club. These professionals are part of Elliott’s large network of contacts, and they unveil to students timeless lessons about leadership, networking and career growth.
Elliott has a phrase for this ongoing partnership: “a taste of real life.”
Students hear about success and failure, unfulfilled risks and fulfilled dreams. They get pointers on what angel investors look for and how an entrepreneurial future will be.
Next spring, Elliott will launch a YouTube channel that will showcase the online presentations students have produced for her classes. The presentations become a part of a student’s portfolio and a point of pride for anyone to see.
Meanwhile, in the fall and spring, students participate in two events that can earn them start-up money for their potential businesses. They go before a panel of judges to pitch their idea. If they win, they get money. But students pocket something better than cash.
“This real world influence helps students see and dream that anything is possible,” Elliott says. “Think about it. Enough young entrepreneurs have heard enough people say, ‘Really?’ But when, when they meet people like Troy, they hear people say, ‘Really!’”
That’s Troy Knauss, a local angel investor who has 45 companies in his portfolio. He’s an adjunct professor at Wake Forest University, and he visits at least 15 colleges and universities throughout the Southeast to talk to students about his work.
High Point University is one. He has spoken to classes, acted as a judge in contests and has helped student entrepreneurs fine-tune their ideas.
Knauss says he has been impressed with what he has seen.
He loves that HPU offers majors in sales and entrepreneurship because he believes it’ll help students navigate the ever-changing world of business. But he also loves what he finds beyond the classroom and the contests.
He discovers students who are a lot like him.
They come from families who have started and run businesses, and he knows how they were raised — sitting with family, absorbing what they hear and figuring out how ideas take root and grow.
Knauss learned that from his paternal grandfather. He called Donald Knauss Grandpop.
When he turned 18, Knauss received a gift from his grandfather. His grandfather gave him money and told him to invest in businesses to find out firsthand how deals are done, how trust is earned and how people can work together.
So, like the framed poster in Cottrell, Knauss knows the entrepreneurial spirit is part of his DNA – as well as the students he meets at HPU.
“A lot of kids at High Point have that same ability, and like me, they sat at the dinner table and heard their parents talk about it,” says Knauss, a married father of two in his mid-40s. “But they don’t know they have it. But then, they walk into a classroom, and they remember. High Point brings it out in them.”
Gary Simon sees that.
He’s a third-generation jeweler who has run a business in High Point since 1988. In 2009, he started the Business Accelerator Fund at HPU to support a contest in which judges give students money for the best two-minute business pitches.
Simon is one of the four judges, and he likens the Elevator Pitch Competition to a kinder, gentler version of the popular ABC show, “Shark Tank.”
“There is no better soil for an entrepreneur to grow than what you find at High Point University,” says Simon.
Two weeks ago on a Monday night, inside the ballroom at Cottrell Hall, Elliott stood in the back and watched 40 student entrepreneurs she knows well receive a first from the university: a pin.
The pin, which honors their hard work and accomplishments, has a rising star on a dark-blue backdrop with three words: Ready for Success.
Following the ceremony, Elliott sat four rows back as yet another entrepreneur – High Point interior designer Jason Oliver Nixon – came to campus to give tips to students and talk about his professional journey.
Nixon’s talk reminds Elliott of the first-floor poster she loves02 inside Cottrell. It’s not the one with a flying eagle. It’s the other one on the first floor, one that references a phrase HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein says often.
“You cannot be a job taker,” Qubein tells students. “You have to be a job creator.”
Elliott does love that idea.
“In essence, the students I see have this sense of responsibility, this feeling of ‘This world is mine,’” Elliott says. “Students here embrace that. So, I find myself not only working with students, but I’m working with the next generation of business ideas, and it makes me feel like I’m part of the future.
“They are thinking of the next cool thing. Heck, I don’t know what the next cool thing will be, but when I watch them, I know something cool will come about. That leaves me speechless.”