The image of an entrepreneur is a narrow one, often as Silicon Valley unicorns or Shark Tank hopefuls. Those are the exceptions, not the rule. Innovation is everywhere and entrepreneurs are on every campus and in every community across the country and around the world. That is a core value of the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars at Syracuse University. Gabby Holliman-Lopez ’22 and Tyra Jean G’21, inaugural Todd B. Rubin Diversity and Inclusion Scholars believe that too.
Funded through a generous five-year commitment to SU Libraries by Todd B. Rubin ’04 (Architecture), the program supports entrepreneurial students at the LaunchPad from diverse backgrounds who are working to create inclusion within Syracuse University’s innovation community. Holliman-Lopez, a Communications and Rhetorical Studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Tyra Jean, a graduate student in the Master of Public Administration program at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Policy, were the first two students selected for the prestigious role.
They spent the fall semester pouring themselves into their goal of making the LaunchPad known across campus as a space open to all disciplines, backgrounds, ethnicities and identities. For them, their role is especially important in highlighting the accessibility of entrepreneurship for more than just STEM or business majors, but opening it up to those who study arts, humanities, and anything else, and to students from underrepresented backgrounds.
“We wanted to push back against that ideology that entrepreneurship is specifically related to STEM. If you see a need in society and you’re willing to go forth with fixing it, that’s the center of entrepreneurship,” said Jean in reflecting on the multidisciplinary core of innovation and change creation.
Seeking to make entrepreneurship accessible across all majors, Jean and Holliman-Lopez partnered with the WellsLink Leadership Program. They wanted to give the students of WellsLink, a program for students from historically underrepresented minorities in higher education, an opportunity to take their passion and drive and focus it on entrepreneurship.
Holliman-Lopez and Jean hosted a workshop this past fall to invite discussions surrounding entrepreneurship. They created a roundtable discussion with the WellsLink students where they pondered the meaning of innovation and showcased black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) LaunchPad alumni. The goals were to send the message that success in starting your own company or pursuing innovation and creativity isn’t reserved for those of a specific identity.
“I was really excited by the response. I felt like we got a lot of rich engagement which can be difficult to do on Zoom. Our goal was to expand the definition of entrepreneurship to include those of all backgrounds. “said Holliman-Lopez.
“WellsLink and all other programs have such ambitious kids, and they don’t know what direction that’s going to take them. It’s so wonderful to see people looking for tools to be able to grow themselves and here is a resource to get involved and grow your academic excellence and professional development,” said Jean.
Jean and Holliman-Lopez see entrepreneurship as a way not simply to just start your own business but to learn valuable career and personal skills to last for a lifetime.
Their goal this semester is to share life skills learned in the LaunchPad through a film compilation of BIPOC LaunchPad alumni sharing their experiences. They hope to inspire BIPOC student communities to seek out opportunities available to them through the LaunchPad and learn innovation skills that they can use for life.
Entrepreneurship is a field not defined by interests or studies but passion and vision. It’s a field made richer when people from diverse walks of life join together in a creative and diverse community.
That’s the goal that Gabby and Tyra will be pursuing through their journey as they innovate what it means to be the inaugural Todd B. Rubin Diversity and Inclusion Scholars.
Story by Blackstone LaunchPad Global Fellow Claire Howard ’23; photos supplied