Why N.C. State’s E.I. program is important to us

When Jane and I started trying to figure out a way to be more involved with N.C. State, we wanted to do more than just support athletics and buy season tickets for the games. We like doing that and we will keep doing that, but we wanted to help on the academic side of things.

I bleed Wolfpack red … people know that! That’s where I graduated from and I loved, loved my time as a student in Raleigh. Why else would our daughter’s name be spelled Haleigh? That’s how much we love Raleigh and N.C. State University!

The more we looked into possible ways to contribute, the more we kept hearing about this new Entrepreneurship Initiative. Nevin Kessler, Vice Chancellor for University Development, met with us and sort of explained this new, dynamic program that would encourage students to develop products and ventures that would make a difference in the world.

That got my attention … big time!

So Jane and I locked in on this deal and we made a five-year commitment to fund the Entrepreneur Lecture Series, a semi-annual event, that attracts 300 students, faculty, staff, alumni and local residents to learn more about how to successfully start and build companies in North Carolina.

While we were down in Florida with the kids, the EI program had its Prometheus Group eGames Awards Ceremony and ELS event at the McKimmon Center. I really wanted to go and they asked me to help judge the competition, but I had promised the family we were going to spend some time at the beach. I did send Robbie Craft, from our ABTF team, and Mac Heffner, my press secretary, to the event. They got to hang out with Dr. Tom Miller, who heads up the EI program,

There were 24 teams of students and more than $30,000 was awarded that day. Our guys talked to the students, got to see the venture ideas and products and talked to the ELS speaker Josh Whiton, who is the founder and CEO of TransLoc. He’s a fellow alum, entrepreneur and solid guy from what I hear. His company makes mass transit easier by helping people track the location of busses and N.C. State uses his company to help students get around more efficiently.

A young man named Trent Huffines, who I first met when I taught two EI classes earlier this year, won first place for his Critical Reload Device prototype and he came by the office last week to show me how it worked and toured our campus in Burlington. He’s pretty sharp and he just got back from an NRA event up in Pittsburgh, so I got to talk to him about all the cool stuff they had up there. He’s from Burlington and his family supports J.L. Williams’ ministry work, so that’s another connection we have because J.L. is a good buddy of mine.

I got to see pictures from the event and the reports I got back from our team was that it was a pretty neat deal and it’s something I’m proud to be associated with.

The whole point of the EI program is to build a culture of innovation and develop the entrepreneurial spirit of students that will lead to job creation and future leaders in our country.

I’ve told N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson and Nevin Kessler that I like helping the EI program and it’s great to see what the students are doing. They have both thanked us for our support, but it’s easy to support something you believe in so strongly.

The EI program really is a perfect blend of business and innovation and it’s cool to see the students dreaming big. The lectures, awards and the program fit a number of areas that I’m all about. I really think we are making a difference on the academic side of the university now and that is awesome. It’s a big investment by us, but it’s important to us.

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