Banner Year for UNC’s Center for E-Ship Studies


UNC’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies Celebrates Banner Year

At a recent wrap-up to the Entrepreneurs Lab, a course designed by Ted Zoller who heads up UNC’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies (CES) at the Kenan Flagler Business School, there was a notable buzz among the students. “I feel so privileged to have this opportunity my very first year at Carolina,” said undergraduate Jack Paley. “We’ve had access to an incredible range of successful entrepreneurs from all over the world who came to share their experience and advice with us. Just being able to have one-on-one conversations with them was an unbelievable boost to my goals as an entrepreneur.”

Paley was drawn to UNC from Colorado and represents a growing demographic in Carolina undergrads – students who specifically come here to take part in a burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem. As he closes out his freshman year, Paley has balanced running his existing company, Aspen Crunch (a health food venture he launched while in high-school), with launching a new venture, InVerge, and immersing himself in the entrepreneurship offerings on campus.

“Jack is exactly the kind of rising star that we are hoping will take a close look at UNC as they’re searching for strong entrepreneurship programs across the country,” said Zoller. “This year, we’ve really made great strides as a campus to integrate our offerings and show students that no matter what their interest or current skillset, if they have a desire to help change the world they can do that here at Carolina.”

Rise in Rankings

CES programs have fueled UNC’s rise in national entrepreneurship rankings such as US News & World Report (7), Princeton Review (9 graduate, 16 undergraduate) and Mashable (9).  From the student-led Carolina Challenge, its signature campus-wide business plan competition, to the annual global Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) attracting international teams of MBA’s and top VC’s from around the world, CES offerings engage graduate students and undergrads from across campus.

This wide reach beyond the borders of the business school reflects UNC’s vision to integrate the entrepreneurial mindset and skillset into all parts of its campus. Carolina Challenge winners this year boasted student founders from Biomedical Engineering, Economics, and Chinese Studies in addition to the MBA team who took top prize. Carolina Challenge, like other CES offerings such as Launching the Venture, also include pathways for alumni to participate.

Keeping alumni who have or are currently starting ventures engaged with the university is good for everybody, says Dina Mills who directs Launch Chapel Hill, the joint university, town, and county business accelerator co-founded by CES. “Having lots of ways for our entrepreneurial community to be involved and get the resources they need here is helping to grow venture creation locally,” said Mills. “We like the mix of faculty, students, and alumni working together on their ideas because it keeps the pipeline for high-potential opportunities fresh.”

In addition to the curricular offerings through the business school, undergrads who are interested in entrepreneurship can apply to the Minor in Entrepreneurship in the College of Arts and Sciences. The E-minor gives students different pathways to develop their skills, including sport, art, social and scientific entrepreneurship. Next year for the first time, students in the E-minor will also be able to take entrepreneurship courses offered to undergraduates at the business school.

Global Reach

For undergrads and graduate students alike, opportunities that offer a chance to participate in the global marketplace are distinctly attractive. The Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) turns a traditional business plan competition on its head by bringing teams of students who want to try their hand at awarding investment dollars to worthy startups. Started by CES in 1997, this year’s event drew teams from 66 schools representing twelve countries and three continents. The UNC team made the finals in the competition for the 10th time, placing 3rd overall behind first-place Columbia University and runner-up Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.

“This is an amazing opportunity, both for our student organizers and competitors, to immerse themselves in the investment world,” said Patrick Vernon, the Executive Director for CES who runs the program. How it works – real startup companies pitch to VCIC teams who each have $100M hypothetical investment dollars to work with. Teams spend one-on-one time with the companies and have to put their proposals board-room style before the 18 real VC’s brought into judge the event before they begin negotiating with the startups. Negotiations are judged and teams are scored for their interactions, negotiating effectiveness and business analysis.

Although interpersonal and communication skills don’t matter without having done the homework, the winning teams inevitably pull ahead through a highly-potent combination of knowledge and sophisticated people skills. The leadership training students get from participating is one thing Vernon says makes VCIC such a valuable experience for them. This year, UNC hopes to bring on Brazil or another South American country to continue building its international reach.

While VCIC brings students from around the world to UNC, the GLOBE® program (Global Opportunities in Business Education) brings together three of the world’s best business schools to provide undergraduate students a premier international business education. UNC partners with the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Copenhagen Business School to offer a unique, integrated global business curriculum to prepare students as future managers and business leaders. GLOBE Fellows are chosen upon application to the Undergraduate Business program during the early fall of their sophomore year and participate over eighteen months during their junior and senior year.

Zoller leads the GLOBE cohort through a flipped classroom methodology. GLOBE students on campus form cross-national teams with members from each of the partner universities. Together, the teams both create their own venture in class, and work with resident Launch Chapel Hill companies to consult with them on core strategies for their growth. Students also do site visits to explore the local RTP entrepreneurial community, and are introduced to the New York entrepreneurial and financial ecosystems. Zoller credits GLOBE with opening global entrepreneurial pathways to UNC undergrads. “It’s a tremendous experience for young entrepreneurs to be exposed to new business models, and particularly to understand the differences in culture, and to learn about different innovation environments,” said Zoller.

CES closes out its academic year with a weeklong Global Entrepreneurship Lab in Copenhagen. The lab pairs MBA’s from UNC with companies in Accelerace, a top accelerator program in Denmark’s internationally known Symbion Research Park. MBA’s have already been paired with their companies and will spend the time in Copenhagen conducting breakthrough analysis, developing custom strategy, and meeting with entrepreneurs and investors in the area. Zoller hopes to replicate the program in rapidly-growing entrepreneurial hotspots in the Gulf, South America and Southeast Asia.

A Winning Formula

What are the components of success for CES? The combination of focus on undergraduate and graduate programs, combined with interaction with experienced entrepreneur mentors and a global perspective, along with offerings for entrepreneurs at all different stages are delivering strong results according to Zoller. For example, in Launching the Venture CES takes entrepreneurs who have a great idea for a company and surrounds them with experts who guide the phases of company development. Many of these founders go on to win the Carolina Challenge or other regional competitions, become resident companies in Launch Chapel Hill, and may even try their hand at investing through VCIC.

“High quality programs and a variety of avenues to help entrepreneurs be successful is what CES is all about,” said Zoller. “Our students and alumni go on to do amazing things – they’re really changing the world. We’re just happy to be part of that success in some way.”

For more information visit the CES website at