“Innolab” Students Seek Wisdom from Entrepreneurs

Students in Regent University’s School of Business and Leadership (SBL) are continuing their learning outside of the classroom, and inviting others to join them. Topics like innovation, business creation and continued entrepreneurial success are forefront to “Innolab.” The new organization brings in business owners from the community to share their experience and advice in an informal setting. Tao Tang ’16 (School of Business & Leadership), worked with Professor Gary Oster to establish the group earlier in 2015.

“Innolab has been developed a lot,” said Tang. “Now we have four main activities we do regularly. One is what we’ve been talking about, the weekly meet-up. We have entrepreneurs who come over to hang out with us. The whole process is very generic. When the group has a specific need, for instance, they want to figure out how to do patents, then we invite somebody from a patent office and solve the issue.”

One of the guests included Dr. Lisa Fournier ’12 (SBL). She runs the Norfolk Fair Trade Company, a benefit corporation designed to equip entrepreneurs to get, and keep, their businesses going. She describes it as a learning lab, and it’s the product of her journey as an entrepreneur since the age of 19, years spent starting businesses, and her doctoral education from Regent, that she earned with the goal of being able to educate others.

“I really wanted to help entrepreneurs not go out of business as quickly as they say, which is about 80 percent of all startups fail within the first few years,” said Fournier. “I didn’t understand why that had to happen, and I figured, why not show entrepreneurs how to model certain types of behavior, give them learning nuggets they need to know or understand in order to be a more successful startup.”

Fournier shared some of those learning nuggets during her visit to Innolab. Her biggest objective was to make the students think, and she’s optimistic that Innolab could help nurture student-created innovations or even establish corporate connections.

“We sat here and spent two and a half hours engaging with entrepreneurs. In my discussion, we were talking a lot about the proof of concept stage and how to really get their startup off the ground,” said Fournier.

“Many of the students want to start their own companies,” said Oster. “They are spending a lot of time quizzing people who come to our campus and talk about their companies. It’s kind of the school of ‘hard nocks.’ Our students want to find out, rather than making some of the errors themselves… It’s always better to learn on somebody else’s dime. There’s more to innovation than just coming up with a great idea. Following through, taking that idea and doing the right things with it can be very difficult. There are legal parts that are involved. There are all kinds of things that are involved. That’s a good thing that we can get through Innolab, finding out what I should be watching out for if I want to do this type of innovation or that type of business.”

To find out what they should be watching for, Innolab also travels off-campus and attends events geared toward entrepreneurs in the Hampton Roads area.

“We want to create an entrepreneurial hub here at Regent and help Regent start up businesses to refine their ideas, to get resources, to get connected,” said Tang. “To be successful and have a successful business and to grow in a healthy way. That is the value proposition.”

The group continues to grow as it transforms MBA students into start-up business owners. The group meets Thursdays at noon and webcasts its meetings.