This story is featured in the Spring 2018 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how Netflix Co-Founder Marc Randolph mentors students in his role as HPU’s Entrepreneur in Residence.
Kathy Elliott remembers what she told the group of students preparing to pitch their business ideas to Netflix Co-Founder Marc Randolph.
“This,” she said, “is a big deal. Practice and be ready.”
And practice they did, many of them inside her office in the Belk Entrepreneurship Center, where Elliott serves as director and mentors flocks of students preparing to launch companies.
They rehearsed. They improved. They stressed. They laughed at their own nervousness. And then they kept going.
When the big day arrived, a crowd of students gathered in a half circle to support their peers who were presenting, and Randolph sat in the middle. The space sports neon furniture and walls and tables where students can write their ideas. Everything about the center looks and feels like a small business incubator.
But it’s only a space until the students arrive to fill it with their ideas, creativity and collaboration. That day, the center brimmed with the kind of energy — the true spirit of entrepreneurism — that moves students’ businesses forward.
Randolph returned again this year as High Point University’s Entrepreneur in Residence. So did Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, who serves as HPU’s Innovator in Residence. More students met the Silicon Valley veterans, shared their ideas with them and received honest feedback from people who’ve revolutionized their industries.
“When HPU welcomes someone like the co-founder of Netflix or the co-founder of Apple to sit and provide real, honest feedback to our students, it builds massive momentum,” Elliott said. “The students know Marc Randolph and Steve Wozniak are coming back again and again, so they are constantly rising to the occasion. There is never a shortage of cool things happening here.”
From Blogger to Business Owner
That was before the Pinehurst, North Carolina native was a freshman at High Point University.
Engelman, a communication major, met Randolph during her first year on campus and pitched her idea to transform her website into a lifestyle brand and business. She practiced for hours leading up to the big moment.
When she pitched to Randolph the next day, she realized her nervousness was proof of how much she cared. She was committed to growing her business. And Randolph told her that was crucial for any business owner.
“It’s the person behind the idea that matters,” he said. “Without the person, the idea doesn’t mean anything. The problems you are solving today have an expiration date of six months, so it’s you who needs to have innovative thinking skills for the future.”
That stuck with Engelman. Now she’s a junior operating MandyJEngelman.com. She’s grown her followers and completed several journalism and marketing-related internships at companies like Ashley Furniture. Each opportunity has led to another.
Like last fall, when Engelman was working at the High Point Market, a furniture trade show, near campus. Representatives of Kathy Ireland, the famous model, actress and entrepreneur, invited Engelman to interview the star at a press event where Ireland was debuting a new furniture line.
Engelman had to act quickly and make a good impression as a blogger for not only Ireland, but the crowd of people watching their interview. And she did.
“All those speech competitions I participated in, all the interviews I conducted for my journalism classes and my blog prepared me for that moment,” Engelman wrote on her website. “There I was, interviewing Kathy Ireland, who was sitting on a panel alongside CEOs and vice presidents. In the middle of my interview, she stopped to applaud me on my communication skills and how confident I appeared.”
“I didn’t think of myself as an entrepreneur before I met Mr. Randolph; I was just a girl with a blog,” Engelman says. “But it was a mind-opening experience that changed my perspective on everything.”
Only at HPU
That’s what Dylan Silber thinks when he asks himself, “At what other university would I have met Netflix Co-Founder Marc Randolph?”
Access to innovators like Randolph is part of what drew him to HPU.
Silber was a freshman when he took a selfie with Randolph inside the Belk Entrepreneurship Center. Wozniak signed Silber’s laptop during his sophomore year, and Silber spoke with both Wozniak and Randolph again this year.
He’s a double entrepreneurship and sales major who was inspired by Randolph’s first visit to take what he calls his “invention book” and turn some of his designs into prototypes.
“After Marc Randolph visited, I started building prototypes,” Silber said. “That is one thing that stuck with me. He told us that you learn more in one day of doing than in a year of working on your business plan.”
Silber participated in the Elevator Pitch Competition and the Business Plan Competition. He’s sought advice from Elliott and other professors, and he’s met small business owners Elliott invites to the center as guest speakers, including a former “Shark Tank” contestant.
He understands that HPU’s network of mentorship is strong. The foundation begins with faculty like Elliott. It’s reinforced by leaders like Randolph and Wozniak who are in residence at HPU. The connections spin off like a web that reaches almost every corner, from small businesses on Main Street in High Point all the way to Silicon Valley.
“I know I wouldn’t have gotten this experience anywhere else,” Silber says. “Learning from people who are entrepreneurs at this level…it’s absolutely life changing.”
Engelman seconds that.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of friends who go to other schools about this, and they’ve asked me, ‘Why are you meeting with the co-founder of Netflix? How did you get that opportunity?’ I’m blown away by the opportunities this university gives me to help grow my business and help all of my dreams come true.”