The Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is partnering with leading international audit, tax, and management consulting firm Grant Thornton to promote the exchange of innovative ideas among students, faculty, alumni, and program sponsors.

Grant Thornton, which was founded in Chicago and today operates 60 offices across the U.S., has committed $100,000 during the next three years to support the partnership’s programs — including fellowships and internships with entrepreneurs, corporate innovators, and other leaders in both the public and private sectors.

“We are thrilled to have Grant Thornton, a truly innovative consulting firm, as a partner,” said Derick Maggard, executive director of the center, also known as Apex CIE. “This program is a model for higher education as we connect private sector partners and students in a true hands-on, minds-on environment.”

Grant Thornton’s commitment will support Apex CIE’s Catalyst Fellows Program, Maggard said. Select faculty and students in that program will be placed with startup or innovative companies and work on multidisciplinary teams with corporate partners to assess intellectual property potential and strategic business decisions.

“Our partnership with Grant Thornton provides a platform for Virginia Tech students and executives from Grant Thornton to work on solving big problems in the public sector,” said Maggard. “The students will gain valuable insight into the corporate world while working on innovative new solutions for governments.”

“Grant Thornton’s investment in Virginia Tech and the Apex Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the next logical step in the over 10-year relationship we have had with the university and its students,” said Eric Heffernan, principal at Grant Thornton Public Sector.

“Simply stated, Grant Thornton intends to be the firm of the future, and therefore it only makes sense for us to align ourselves with an institution that is positioned to invent the future. Just like Apex CIE, we believe innovation is a critical element to improving how the public sector operates, and we are enthusiastic to engage with the Apex CIE students to develop game-changing solutions for the public sector.”

Grant Thornton will provide internships to students in the Apex CIE iScholars Program, a 12-week interdisciplinary program in the Washington, D.C.-area. The program, which includes a rigorous academic component, places students in full-time paid internships with start-ups, new ventures, and large firms in the region.

Courtney Mecimore, of Reston, Virginia, a senior majoring in finance and marketing management, interned last summer with the strategy and communications team at Grant Thornton’s Alexandria, Virginia, office.

“This internship allowed me to apply skills I learned in the classroom and showed me how I can be innovative in a large company,” Mecimore said.

Apex CIE provides hands-on, training in applying innovation and entrepreneurship tools, connections, and practices through curricular and extracurricular programs for students, Maggard said.

The center seeks to create an atmosphere and culture that “unleashes creativity, sparks vision and innovation, and teaches the governing principles that are the foundation of every successful progressive enterprise,” he said.

“At Apex CIE, we strive to create experiential learning opportunities where students work alongside representatives from the private sector to ideate on business problems, critically assess opportunities, and propose solutions based on market potential.”

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