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UM offers help for entrepreneurs

By Timberly Moore
On April 11, 2012

  • Senior finance major Colt Sherwin says he looks forward to going to work every day at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Brian Wilson

The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is offering a new style of education - minus the tuition.

Located on the third floor of The FedEx Institute of Technology building, the CEI assists over one hundred businesses that were founded by current University of Memphis students and community members in their startup process.

The center, which opened in the fall, offers internship and networking opportunities, free business advice, workshops and brainstorming sessions.

Colt Schwerin, senior finance major, interns at the CEI and is working toward becoming a client as well.

After brainstorming with his bosses, Schwerin is in the idea phase of creating a micro-loan funding program.   

"I do market research, analysis of projections and financial documents, but working here makes you feel like you are doing something much more profound because of the impact that you can have on people's lives," Schwerin said.

He chose to work for the CEI over another internship offer from a bank, and said he looks forward to going into work every day.

"This place has a sense of synergy that is unmatched by any other job that I've ever had," he said.

Kelly Penwell, program manager for the CEI, said she relocated from Long Island, New York to take the position.

"I moved down here the summer before we opened to help set up and work out all of the logistics we needed worked out," Penwell said.

Services provided by the center are free for clients because the Center operates using a two-year grant from the Small Business Administration.

"My hope is that we will continue after the two years because the demand is definitely there," Penwell said.

Penwell, who taught for six years, said she has never worked with a better group of people than The U of M interns she has.

Jack Simon, communications media and political science major, said the CEI might be one of the greatest resources The U of M has to offer.

Simon's upcoming Brister Street Music Festival is sponsored by the CEI. A group of community entrepreneurs helped him brainstorm ideas for his festival during a whiteboard session, where he pitched his proposal. He said the best part of the CEI is that it's free.

"The CEI is the most underutilized resources on campus," Simon said. "It brings a lot of creative minds together for the purpose of successful entrepreneurial business."

The CEI offers services to a variety of businesses including non-profits, childcare, biomedical, and retail facilities.

"If you feel like you can't do it by yourself, then come on down to the CEI," Penwell said. "It's a great opportunity. The University of Memphis has one of the finest business schools in the country. Why not utilize it?"

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