Entrepreneurship Summit prepares students for success

Panelists participate in the Entrepreneurship Summit.
Sean Fontes shares insights during a breakout session focused on business law, education, community development and resources at the Entrepreneurship Summit. He was joined by Monique Fuchs, Mary Steele, Juliana Badaro Langille and student moderators Erv Williams and Hanna Wauczinski.

Guest speakers and panelists provide insights and advice

Wheaton’s First Entrepreneurship Summit was held April 24, 2024, in Hindle Auditorium, where participating students acquired new skills, insights and connections from industry leaders of various fields.

“We want students to understand that entrepreneurship, education and training is not just about exploring ideas or identifying opportunities to create or manage a business, but a skill set that can be acquired to develop themselves,” explained Ellie Paris-Miranda, the Diana Davis Spencer Endowed Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurship can prepare students for the career they are planning since it help students build practical skills, enhance leadership and collaboration”

In her opening remarks, President Michaele Whelan stressed the value of a well-rounded Wheaton education in pursuing goals. See gallery below.

“A liberal arts education is the perfect preparation for a successful entrepreneur,” she said. “Strong critical thinking ability and developing the skills to make meaningful difference in the world, are hallmarks of a Wheaton liberal arts education, and I think are the essential ingredients for social innovation and effective entrepreneurship.”

Karina Holyoak Wood, the founding executive director of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Rhode Island, gave the keynote address at the summit, which attracted more than 200 participants. The accelerated program she oversees works with established entrepreneurs to help them build upon their ideas to grow and scale their business, with a focus on recruiting women and people of color.

“Entrepreneurs assess and identify opportunities, solve problems and meet needs,” she said. “They organize resources and provide leadership to launch and grow a venture. They create values for themselves and their community.”

Holyoak Wood shared that a common theme in the feedback received from participants in the Small Business program is the confidence it instills.

“I hope that all of you can have the confidence in yourself that you can be an entrepreneur if you want to … because it is very empowering and everybody has the potential and the ability to do it,” she said.

Following the keynote, students elected to moderate in a choice of four breakout sessions centering around either art and social impact, health care entrepreneurship, technology and resources for startups, or business law and education. Each one-hour session was led by a panel of speakers and industry experts who are or have worked in companies, organizations and higher ed institutions that include Peloton, MIT, Harvard and Tufts.

Kristina Piasecki, professor of the practice of business, and Tania Schlatter, professor of the practice of design, also were among the speakers at the event.

Erv Williams ’24, who is double majoring in history and business management, was involved as a student when the original iteration of this event focused on social impact, and assisted with the planning of this year’s summit. He is happy to have witnessed its evolution to a focus on social entrepreneurship.

“Seeing this event carried through to my senior year has given me a sense of agency,” he said. “Wheaton not only cares about what students say, but students’ passions, and facilitates an opportunity for us to make a difference.”

An entrepreneur himself, Williams has created board games inspired by world history and different cultures of the world. He plans to attend Boston College Law School after he graduates.

Paris-Miranda was the keynote speaker at last year’s iteration of this event, and joined the faculty in January to help broaden entrepreneurship learning  opportunities and resources for students, according to Leanna Lawter, associate professor of business and chair of the business and management department. “She created an inclusive environment for all and worked tirelessly to engage students in this endeavor,” said Lawter. “The impressive turnout of student participants and the lineup of speakers was more than what I expected. She used her deep roots in the entrepreneurship ecosystem to spearhead a highly successful event.”

Student participants and guest speakers enjoyed the event. “I had a wonderful time as planning chair for the summit, because of the encouragement, enthusiasm and problem-solving skills Dr. Ellie supported me and the group with,” said Danielle McConnell ’24, a business major with a social entrepreneurship concentration. “I learned so much about how to effectively problem solve, set priorities and think positively in the face of challenges. Dr. Ellie’s confident and positive perspective and plethora of knowledge created a great opportunity for us as students to learn from her real-life experiences.”

Keynote speaker Holyoak Wood added, “Wheaton’s Entrepreneurship Summit was a wonderful experience. I was impressed by the President’s welcome speech, the large audience, and the high level of engagement …. I came away with a notebook full of ideas, new connections and thoughts to pursue. I can’t wait for next year’s summit!”

Lawter is excited about enhancing next year’s event by offering more networking opportunities for both attendees and presenters. “We’d like to have a networking event for the participants where they can make connections within a spirit of entrepreneurship.”

Primary sponsors of the summit were Diana Davis Spencer ’60 and Board of Trustee member Kendra Malloy and John Malloy, who are the parents of a Wheaton Class of 2022 graduate.