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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Graduate Funds Program to Grow Entrepreneurship Educators at His Alma Mater

Lee Entsminger's life's work has been in solving complex problems.

The retired Mobil executive - whose career included domestic and international assignments in technical, commercial and business aspects of the company - believes strongly that entrepreneurship, at its heart, is nothing more than identifying those problems, and proposing solutions.

As Old Dominion began a comprehensive push to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in its students, a number of university faculty and alumni, including Entsminger, then chair of the Advisory Board with ODU's College of Sciences, spoke frequently with President John R. Broderick about what that might entail.

"The fact is, there isn't a big manufacturer lining up to come to Hampton Roads. The growth in our economy is going to come from entrepreneurs," said Entsminger, who is from Virginia Beach.

A 1974 ODU geology graduate, Entsminger has been active in numerous initiatives involving his alma mater, endowing a scholarship in coastal geography, guest lecturing in engineering and, recently, participating in the university's development of an entrepreneurial curriculum.

"Entrepreneurship, at its root, is a matter of problem solving, critical thinking and the ability to communicate. Those are skills that can be taught," he said.

In a consulting "white paper" for ODU about how the school can proceed with an entrepreneurial initiative, Entsminger identified a need for entrepreneurship educators, faculty members in every college who can work with aspiring student entrepreneurs.

He feels so strongly about ODU's effort to establish a university-wide entrepreneurial culture that he has provided a $100,000 gift to fund a program designed to grow and support entrepreneurship educators.

Faculty members in each ODU college have been identified, and will attend the Price-Babson Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators in Massachusetts later this year. They will take the lead in their respective colleges to help fellow university educators incorporate entrepreneurship into their courses.

"The fact is, with business startups, there is only a 10 percent success rate," Entsminger said. "I wanted to make sure you put together educators in a way to maximize success. It's not just about providing business advice, it's a more integrated approach."

To Entsminger, a key component of the initiative is its involvement of faculty members from every ODU college. "A potential entrepreneur can come from any discipline," he said. "It's a matter of teaching those vital skills of how to solve complex problems."

Entsminger believes ODU is well placed - as the largest university in a populous region - to be a steady supplier of entrepreneurs for Hampton Roads, Virginia and the United States. It's a sentiment shared by Broderick.

"If you look at the ranks of our successful alumni entrepreneurs, individuals like Lee Entsminger and Mark Strome, and hundreds of others, you will see the breadth of passion and quality of our graduates. With this Entsminger Fellows program, we're ready to grow the next generation of dynamic ODU student and alumni entrepreneurs," Broderick said.

Strome, a 1978 ODU graduate in civil engineering, is chief investment officer for Strome Group and Strome Investment Management LP. The Strome Family Foundation, led by Mark and Tammy Strome, of Pacific Palisades, Calif., has pledged $11 million to ODU in support of a new, multipronged program to nurture business entrepreneurs.

Charlie Daniels, an instructor in engineering management in ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, will be among the first cohort of Entsminger Fellows. A relative newcomer to academics after a 40-year career as an entrepreneur, Daniels said the coming boom of entrepreneurship will happen "whether we are part of it or not."

For that reason, Daniels believes the Entsminger Fellows program is invaluable for the university, and a great opportunity for him.

"For me, it's kind of a culmination of all of my passions," Daniels said. "Real entrepreneurs are looking for one thing and one thing only: opportunity. Our role with this program is creating awareness of what the possibilities are, not just for entrepreneurs, but for students with a good idea who may have no idea that they could be entrepreneurs themselves."

Entsminger is an entrepreneurship educator himself, teaching an M.B.A. course at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago. He says he still learns a great deal from teaching, even after close to four decades in business.

"That's the reason to get these Fellows together. The common experience and common approach will help them learn the process of developing an entrepreneurial culture within the university environment. It can help build the whole network up," he said.