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

ODU Enactus Entrepreneurs Inspired by Performance at National Expo

The Old Dominion University students who attended last week's Enactus National Expo in St. Louis have been bitten by the social entrepreneurship bug.

The small group of Old Dominion students who presented their entrepreneurial ideas that spur social change were inspired by meeting like-minded students from almost 200 colleges and universities that took part in the national competition.

The students performed admirably for a first time in the National Expo, advancing to the quarter-finals with their 15-minute presentation, which encompassed three social entrepreneurial ideas: a college residence for disabled veterans; a service to unique families broken apart because of economic circumstances; and an online textbook-sharing service for college and university students.

"I told the students that if we were going to get involved in Enactus, we were going to try to solve problems in our community before we would tackle an issue overseas," said Connie Merriman, assistant dean of the Strome College of Business, and faculty adviser of Enactus. "This experience has been one of the highlights of my entire time at Old Dominion University. I'm very proud of the team that participated."

Some of the Old Dominion Enactus team members were not volunteers at first. William DeLuca, an accounting student from Franklin; and Dawn Boyd, a biology student from Chesapeake, were told they would be participating in Enactus because they took Merriman's Social Entrepreneurship class.

At first, social entrepreneurship seemed like a bit of a nebulous concept. Now, they can't imagine not being part of it.

"It was a really great experience, especially being there at the National Expo, where there were so many great ideas, and passionate students," DeLuca said. "I definitely got to know people I wouldn't know otherwise, and it's nice to know we have this passion in common."

The Enactus club at Old Dominion is comprised of students from many different academic colleges. The three projects reflect completely different experiences - of disabled veterans, cash-strapped students, or dislocated families - but are unified by the entrepreneurial spirit required to tackle them.

"I'm not a business student, so I was surprised when I was told I had to join the club. But I realized, this is me to a T," Boyd said. "I hope to use these skills in a psychiatry practice someday, to use entrepreneurship to make a difference."

Social entrepreneurship is one of the thrusts of the initiative aimed at spurring business start-ups at Old Dominion. The concept was given a significant boost with a gift of $11 million from the Strome Family Foundation in 2014 that was pivotal in the creation of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center.

The Enactus team worked out of the Strome Center to prepare for the national competition, and team member Armundo Russell, an international business student from Virginia Beach, said this year's success is just the beginning.

"We met so many teams who had tons of members, who had been working on projects worldwide. It was really inspiring. But we know by our success that we can do that, too," he said.