North Central senior Phillip Norris admits that the life of an entrepreneur can be lonely.
“When you start out, it’s a one-person show,” said Norris (photo), who was quick to add that there’s also freedom in the life of an innovator that he finds helpful. “When something needs to get done, I’m the one to do it. It’s like being an artist working on my own painting.”
Norris was one of three contestants to pitch a business idea at the Ideas to Profits Conference held May 21 at Wentz Concert Hall. The winner won $5,000 and entrance into ConVerge, the College’s new business accelerator in downtown Naperville, where clients can rent “coworking” space, set up a business and access resources from North Central’s new Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).
Hosted by the College and Fox Valley SCORE, Ideas to Profits offered a full day of sessions designed to help entrepreneurs like Norris start, launch and grow a business, and it marked the official launch of CIE.
Although not the winner, Norris had the opportunity to publically share about his start-up called AMMP (Attitude, Money, Mindset and Persuasion) English, a program designed to prepare international students for advanced English and boost their business confidence. “I’m partnering with Effortless English, a program that teaches beginner and intermediate English for students,” he explained.
With support from his professors, Norris finds time to nurture his start-up between his international business and marketing classes and as president of the Student Governing Association. He’s traveled to Japan, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam. On Honors Day, Norris received the Margaret Youel Award, which recognizes a senior with “perseverance, tenacity and spirit.”
Teaching advanced English to students from Moscow to Rio de Janeiro “and everywhere in between has been the most rewarding part about being an entrepreneur,” said Norris.
“Entrepreneurship has always been a part of the College’s DNA,” said Dr. Troy D. Hammond, president of North Central, who delivered the keynote address at Ideas to Profits. Since becoming president of the College in 2013, Hammond said North Central has a special connection to entrepreneurship through its alumni, trustees, faculty, students and the surrounding community.
In his keynote, Hammond noted that many graduates’ business acumen is not confined to the College’s business programs. “In fact, many of North Central’s great business success stories were science majors,” said Hammond, who himself is a scientist and was part of a start-up called Plextronics, Inc. “I know firsthand what it’s like to pitch an idea to 100 potential investors just to get one on board.”
“This is an exciting time for North Central and for our whole community,” said Hammond.
Today “we are in a position to be much more intentional in connecting the College and the business sector to find new and innovative ways to strengthen our region,” said Hammond.
ConVerge “will be a bridge to the community, helping people start or grow a business through mentoring, practical instruction by entrepreneurs and through business introductions, and it will be a conduit for North Central students to engage in entrepreneurial thinking through emersion in the startup mindset and creating awareness and access to sustainable funding,” he said.
Scott Boyer, president and founder of OWP Pharmaceuticals, is ConVerge’s first anchor tenant.
In addition to the new business accelerator, Hammond announced the start of CardinalLaunch as a way to “support creative and innovative thinking by students across all academic disciplines,” and for faculty and alumni to stay engaged and support the College.
“We are in your corner,” said Martha Carney, executive director for the College’s CIE at the conference. “I know firsthand running and growing a business is not easy and certainly not for the faint of heart,” she said.
At Ideas to Profits, Carney introduced U.S. Congressman Bill Foster, whose startup career began at age 19. Foster and his younger brother cofounded Electronic Theatre Controls, a company that manufactures more than half of the theater lighting equipment in the country. In 2014, Foster received an honorary doctor of laws degree from North Central.
Carney, along with eight North Central students and faculty, were inducted into Sigma Nu Tau, the only academic honor society for entrepreneurs. North Central is now the society’s 20th chapter. Dr. Nancy J. Church, president and executive director of Sigma Nu Tau, presented North Central with its charter. Brian Hanlon, the Coleman Foundation Professor of Entrepreneurship and Small Business endowed chair at North Central, and Dr. Chetan Chawla, assistant professor of entrepreneurship, were inducted as faculty advisors.
Sponsors for Ideas for Profits include American Enterprise Bank, Microsoft, Poznak Law Firm LTD, and First Community Financial Bank.
Click here for more information about the CIE.