The Spirit of Entrepreneurship Runs Deep at Johnson & Wales

By John Robitaille

Entrepreneurship and self-employment are quickly becoming viable alternatives to traditional jobs for many people, including recent college graduates. Few, however, have had any formal education, mentoring or assistance in how to start and run a business. But that’s changing at Johnson & Wales University.

The Larry Friedman International Center for Entrepreneurship on our Providence Campus is a regional hub for entrepreneurial activity. Known as the “eCenter,” it brings together entrepreneurial studies, experiential opportunities, alumni mentors, venture funding and the small business support services to transform students into entrepreneurs and their ideas into commercial or social enterprises. It also serves as a bridge to local, national and international businesses, chambers of commerce, business groups and government agencies such as the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Small Business Administration (SBA).

At JWU, students from all academic majors work within a supportive environment where they can try out their new ventures. Students can get a running start on their endeavors in a number of ways:

• At “SharkFest,” students compete annually for cash awards, incubator space, mentors and support services provided by the university. Modeled after the “Shark Tank” show, this contest began in 2011 and has grown to include all four campuses in the JWU system (Providence, North Miami, Denver and Charlotte). Alumni and students are both offered the opportunity to present their ideas to a select panel of judges who are leaders in the business community.

• JWU is the first “One Million Cups” (1MC) site in the area, joining 72 others throughout the United States. Chosen by the prestigious Kauffman Foundation as its initial New England location, 1MC is a way to engage entrepreneurs in communities around the world. Every Wednesday morning at the JWU eCenter, two local entrepreneurs present their startups to a diverse audience of mentors, advisors and entrepreneurs. During the feedback and questioning segment, entrepreneurs gain insight into possible ways they can improve their businesses, gather real-time feedback and connect with a community that cares about their progress. The public is welcome to attend.

• Johnson & Wales provides stipends for our students to participate in unpaid internships that are more aligned with their career goals. These opportunities have opened doors for them to seek employment in the nonprofit sector, an option some may not have considered prior to their internship. Students may also work on their own business in the eCenter and receive a stipend, too. The spirit of entrepreneurship runs deep at Johnson & Wales; it’s in our DNA. A recent career progression study showed that entrepreneurial activity at JWU is higher than national business startup and/or business ownership rates. Supporting students in their startup efforts, as well as providing formal educational programs, greatly expands the range of options they have upon graduation. That’s good news, as economists point out, because growth in entrepreneurship has historically been a precursor to economic recovery. Come see for yourself: members of the community are invited and encouraged to stop by the eCenter to observe a One Million Cups session, take a tour and meet some of the young entrepreneurs on our campus who are experiencing their future now. For more information, visit

John Robitaille is executive in residence at the Larry Friedman International Center for Entrepreneurship at Johnson & Wales University.

Leave a comment

Avatar About the Author: The Rhode Island Small Business Journal is a printed monthly magazine and an online resource for the aspiring and start-up entrepreneur and small business owner.

previous arrow
next arrow