Entrepreneurship summit to bring over 100 CEOs to campus

W&L’s nationally-ranked entrepreneurship program is hosting its third annual summit on Sept. 25-26

Callie Ramsey

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Over 400 students have registered and 112 alumni are returning to Lexington for the two-day Entrepreneurship Summit on Sept. 25-26.

The alumni are CEOs and founders of companies who graduated from W&L with a wide range of degrees. The registered students represent every year and almost every major on campus.

Johnson Professor of Entrepreneurship and Leadership Jeff Shay said, “The composition of the students and alumni attending reflects the true nature of a liberal arts education and aligns with Rupert Johnson’s vision of what the entrepreneurship program would become.”

W&L’s entrepreneurship program seeks to instill entrepreneurial thinking in students by teaching them about start-ups and leadership.

Rupert Johnson, ’62, endowed W&L the program with a one million dollar gift. In five years, the program has become one of the best in the country.

The program is also thanks to a $2.5 million gift by Leigh and Larry Connolly in 2013. The gift was used to found the Connolly Center for Entrepreneurship.

Larry Connolly graduated from W&L in 1979 and served as CEO of Connolly Inc., a recovery audit accounting and consulting firm, before selling to Advent International in 2012. Connolly joined the W&L Board of Trustees in May.

“There has been enormous groundwork laid by Jeff Shay in the past few years with the support of the administration and now Drew Hess,” Connolly said. “I know that now we can leverage that groundwork more effectively and improve the program even more.”

The Connolly Center supports entrepreneurship on campus through the annual entrepreneurship summit, a social entrepreneurship summit, the business plan competition, and the Venture Club.

Affordable Schools recently ranked the W&L entrepreneurship program as 33 in the US, alongside schools with much older programs such as UVA. W&L earned this ranking despite not having three out of the four criteria: a top 50 MBA program, graduate program in computer science, or top 40 location for entrepreneurship.

“At large universities it would be absolutely huge to have 112 CEOs and founders coming to campus in the span of two days,” Shay said. “Think about the numbers for the summit in relation to the size of our school and its just incredible.”

The summit aims to introduce students to entrepreneurial thinking and allow them to gain insights into starting companies.

Shay also emphasized that the summit exposes students to career paths beyond those that are featured prominently on campus or that students first think of when they come to W&L.

Students have the opportunity to participate in practice interviews with alumni and can even interview for full time positions at the alumni’s companies. There are several networking events throughout the weekend open to summit participants.

Connolly said, “The number of student and alumni participating is a good barometer of interest. Only homecoming draws so many alumni back to campus annually.”

Over the span of two days the summit has 15 different sessions covering a range of topics from entrepreneurial healthcare to crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, a student pitch competition, an alumni pitch competition, an innovation activity with the Venture Club, and a reception.

Stephen Denny, ’83, will be giving the summit’s keynote address.

After over 20 years as a senior marketing executive, Denny pivoted to consulting, where he advised major corporations such as The North Face and Hewlett Packard. Denny authored “The Killing Giants Framework: Three Approaches to Topple the Goliath In Your Industry.”

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