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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Innovation: New leader for TCU’s retooled entrepreneurship center

There’s been some innovation going on at one of the key centers for entrepreneurship in North Texas.

The Neeley Entrepreneurship Center at Texas Christian University is now the TCU Neeley Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The new designation reflects the institute’s impact on the university with an increased focus on co-curricular support for TCU students in any major, research affecting entrepreneurship and small business around the world, and a strong partnership and collaboration with DFW economic drivers of entrepreneurship and small business.

To go along with the new name and expanded mission, the institute in October named Rodney D’Souza, a leader in entrepreneurship education and research and successful business owner and angel fund manager in his own right. He joined TCU Neeley as managing director of the institute and the Davis Family Entrepreneur-In-Residence.

D’Souza was formerly the Fifth Third Bank Endowed Professor of Entrepreneurship and director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Northern Kentucky University.

“I ran the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in rural Kentucky,” D’Souza said. “We started that in 2014, so I went back for a few years before I came here. I also started an accelerator on campus which was called The Inkubator. The reason we called it The Inkubator was because it had NKU in it, so we just spelt it INKU, The Inkubator.”

Inkubator grew to be one of the top five university business accelerators in North America.

D’Souza also helped start an angel group there called the Cherub Angels. He also worked with a variety of different companies in the area, including Whisper Pet, a company that had an odor eliminator for pet odors. The company got in Amazon’s Launchpad program and a couple of retail locations.

“I actually saw a bottle at HomeGoods the other day, so it’s still around out there,” he said.

D’Souza said he was talking to Keith Hmieleski, academic director of TCU’s institute, at a conference and heard about all that was going on at TCU.

“It really sounded very, very interesting, so I was like ‘Let me give it a shot.’ ”

After interviewing, he knew it was a fit, but then he had to tell his wife. One problem. He hadn’t really told her much about this possibility before.

“I went back and I talked my wife and I was like, ‘This opportunity is coming up, what do you think?’ She’s like, ‘Let’s go.’ Heartbeat. That’s how we decided to make the move. I didn’t realize that she did not like the Cincinnati cold at all.”

D’Souza’s wife is Preeti Bhagia and they have two small children, ages 6 and 2.

D’Souza says leading the institute is a unique opportunity.

The Neeley Entrepreneurship Center launched in 1999 and quickly earned a reputation for helping TCU students imagine and achieve their dreams of being business owners. TCU Neeley has ranked in the top 25 U.S. Undergraduate Schools for Entrepreneurship 2012-2017 by The Princeton Review for Entrepreneur magazine and has been designated a National Model Entrepreneurship Program by the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

“The center was started 1999 originally by David Minor. Then Brad [Hancock] took over and grew it to one of the top performing centers in the country. In a number of years they were in the top 25 in the nation,” D’Souza said. “I’ve got a really strong base to build on. I’ve got a really strong foundation, and I’ve got a strong team here too.”

Members of that team are Hancock, who is now assistant director of the institute; Hmieleski, the Robert and Edith Schumacher Executive Faculty Fellow in Innovation and Technology, who is academic director of the institute; and Matt Smilor who is director of the Values and Ventures program. The institute’s staff also includes Michael Sherrod, the William M. Dickey Entrepreneur-in-Residence; Lin Nelson, instructor; and Cindy James, administrative assistant.

One of D’Souza’s key goals is how to implement the institute’s strategy, which is basically to be, “the most entrepreneurial friendly campus in the country.”

“Entrepreneurs come from all walks of life and all different schools and colleges across the campus,” he said.

“We want to make sure that we provide them with access to the knowledge, the access to the resources, access to experiences, that they can say, yes, this is something that they’re interested in, or, no, this is not something they’re interested in,” he said.

D’Souza said he read a quote recently that said that not everybody needs to or should be an entrepreneur, but that in today’s environment everyone needs to think like one.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that the entrepreneurial mindset is something that is inculcated in every single student across TCU’s campus,” he said. “That is our approach, to go across campus.”

And the institute plans to continue reaching out beyond the campus.

“We’ll reach out, not just across campus, but bring in the outside community because the whole entrepreneurial community needs to be involved in what’s going on at TCU,” he said. “They want to be involved in what’s going on at TCU. I’ve spoken to a number of folks, all the way from the entrepreneurs to the angels and VCs [venture capitalists]. They really love what’s going on at TCU and want to be more and more involved and engaged. That is something we are intentionally doing as well, is getting them to how do we bring them in to TCU. How do we take our students out to what’s going on out there?”

The institute has also been asked to engage the faculty across campus in research.

“We’ve got really strong researchers in the school of business; so how can we work with researchers in fine arts, how can we work with researchers in communication and solve problems for the business community that are out there?”

One of the most appealing things D’Souza saw at TCU and Fort Worth was opportunity.

“For me, this is the opportunity, the opportunity to create a new accelerator program here, the opportunity to connect with all the really cool stuff that’s going on and create an awareness of how they can utilize that, and two, bring it into what we’re planning,” he said.

“There’s a good flow of student ideas, student projects, and then things of that nature too, and of course, the opportunity to work with the angel groups, the VCs, and the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem around this area too. I know the term ecosystem gets used a lot, a little more than it should actually, but we’ve got a really growing ecosystem,” D’Souza said.

D’Souza said he is meeting people in the area, with the Chamber of Commerce, TECH Fort Worth and other groups has fueled his enthusiasm.

“The folks that they’ve got in there now really have a growth mindset and they’re very entrepreneurial-focused,” he said. “That’s amazing for us, it’s the right time to be doing what we’re doing.”

TCU Neeley Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The Neeley Entrepreneurship Center launched in 1999 and quickly earned a reputation for helping TCU students imagine and achieve their dreams of being business owners. TCU Neeley has ranked in the top 25 U.S. Undergraduate Schools for Entrepreneurship 2012-2017 by The Princeton Review for Entrepreneur magazine and has been designated a National Model Entrepreneurship Program by the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

The TCU Neeley Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will continue to produce these high-caliber programs:

Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures® Competition – An annual competition for undergraduate college students around the world to come to TCU to win funding for conscious capitalism ventures. This year’s program is coming up April 5-6.

Bill Shaddock Venture Capital Fund – TCU students review other students’ business plans for possible cash grants totaling $20,000 in funding each year.

Elevator Pitch Competition – TCU students pitch a new business idea to a panel of judges for cash prizes.

Entrepreneurial Intern Scholars Program – TCU students are matched with TECH Fort Worth business owners for internships.

Jane and Pat Bolin Innovation Forum – National leaders who have transformed their industry or field are featured at TCU for this free annual event.

Entrepreneurship Club at TCU – Open to any major, the club brings successful entrepreneurs to campus, organizes road trips, supports student businesses and coordinates a successful mentor program.

Rodney D’Souza was awarded the 2017 Freedoms Foundation Leavey Award for Excellence in Private Enterprise Education and the 2017 University Award for Excellence in Outreach and Engagement, among other honors. He has developed and delivered undergraduate courses on entrepreneurial mindset, opportunity recognition, idea valuation, new venture creation, new venture management and business plan writing, as well as an MBA module on innovation and competitive intelligence. He holds a Bachelor’s of Commerce and Masters of Computer Management from the University of Pune, MBA from Northern Kentucky and PhD from the University of Louisville.


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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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