The Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Virginia Tech (Apex CIE) plans to grow rapidly over the next three years to serve more students and achieve a national ranking.

In 2016-17, the center served more than 900 Virginia Tech students through entrepreneurship courses and experiential-learning programs and had a hand in launching more than 80 student-led ventures.

The center “enables Virginia Tech students to put their passion, purpose, and ideas into action," said executive director Derick Maggard.

At a recent meeting with Virginia Tech President Tim Sands and key Apex CIE advisory board members, Maggard and others from the center outlined a comprehensive growth strategy.

Maggard called the plan's objectives “aggressive but achievable,” citing the center’s trajectory and accomplishments since it was launched in 2015.

The 2-year-old center, he said, stands to meet or exceed benchmarks of other entrepreneurship programs, particularly those of land-grant universities similar to Virginia Tech. “The demand we are experiencing from students, faculty, alumni, and industry professionals is unprecedented.”

Administratively housed in the Pamplin College of Business, which provides funding and faculty support, Apex CIE offers programs and resources that are open to all students on campus. Its programs enroll students from each of the seven colleges.

“This new plan is intended to challenge our center and the greater university over the next several years to triple the number of students served through academics and experiential programs and to benchmark Apex CIE at a national level,” said Pamplin dean Robert Sumichrast.

Highlights of the growth strategy:

Additional faculty: To meet the demand from students studying entrepreneurship through course curriculum, Apex CIE and Pamplin will hire more faculty, Maggard said. The college is hiring for tenure-track positions as well as professors of practice. The former will be filled by faculty with doctorates and top-tier academic research publications; the latter by industry experts who can bring valuable entrepreneurship experience into the classroom.

Experiential learning: Apex CIE plans to broaden opportunities to engage students in “hands-on, minds-on” activities through the growth of experiential-learning programs. One such program, the Innovate Living-Learning Community, currently engages more than 90 undergraduates from across the university's colleges and plans to double enrollment in order to meet student demand.

Only several years old, Innovate is one of the largest entrepreneurship-focused residential learning communities in the country and “a true differentiator for the school,” said Sumichrast.

“We have students coming to Virginia Tech because of programs like Innovate,” he said. “We plan to grow our capability with continued investment needed to scale these groundbreaking programs in entrepreneurship."

Student-led ventures: Building on the success of student-led startups, Apex CIE will launch several new programs aimed at assisting students in pursuing new ventures. One such program, KICKSTART VT, will provide early-stage student teams with small amounts of seed funding and guidance from proven entrepreneurs throughout the semester, culminating in a campus-wide "Entrepreneur Challenge" each spring. 

“Our goal is to create transformational learning experiences for our students and allow them to pursue a new venture while staying within their academic degree program,” said Maggard.

The center's growth strategy represents the best of what a 21st-century university education has to offer today’s students, he said.

"Entrepreneurship is a powerful force in organizations of all types and sizes. At Virginia Tech, we are building much more than student start-ups, we are building the leaders of tomorrow.”

About Apex CIE: The center's mission is to inspire and empower students to turn their passion, purpose, and ideas into action by providing hands-on educational training and application of innovation and entrepreneurship tools. The center is named in recognition of a joint commitment by four Virginia Tech alumni, Brian Callaghan, Ted Hanson, Edwin “Win” Sheridan, and Jeffrey Veatch. The namesake, Apex Systems, is the information technology staffing and services company that Callaghan, Sheridan, and Veatch founded in 1995, which Hanson joined as chief financial officer in 1998.

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