Microenterprise program to help revitalize towns

As part of a new university initiative, ECU students are developing ideas for new businesses that could play a significant role in revitalizing communities in eastern North Carolina.

In November, ECU launched its microenterprise program, a multidisciplinary strategy that brings together teams of students and industry mentors to support regional business development.

Microenterprises are businesses that operate on a smaller scale, typically with fewer than six employees at startup. While these businesses may be small, ECU is investing big resources into them. University leaders are committing to produce the most small-business startups of any North Carolina university and believe this program will help drive a new generation of businesses in eastern North Carolina.

ECU’s microenterprise program strategically places student teams into economically depressed areas to help jump-start sluggish economies with new business ideas.

“One of ECU’s school mottos is ‘Loyal and Bold,’” said Jay Golden, vice chancellor for research, economic development and engagement. “That’s exactly what this microenterprise program stands for. We not only want to see success with the program, but we want to become a national model of student success for other universities aiming to solve big challenges in rural areas.”

Teams with two to four students each from undergraduate business classes, science and engineering capstone courses, ECU’s entrepreneurial-minded living learning community and the university’s premier business pitch competition, the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge, will form a student pipeline for the program.

Once established, teams will be matched with eastern North Carolina communities, economic development groups and regional businesses that align with their business passions.

Teams will then develop business plans and strategies using ECU resources, including the Office of Innovation and New Ventures, Innovation Design Lab and the new Van and Jennifer Isley Innovation Building with its sophisticated design and fabrication equipment. With a business plan in hand, teams will launch their microenterprises and live in the communities they’re committed to rejuvenating with their new businesses ideas.

The program is part of ECU’s larger goal of supporting rural communities in eastern North Carolina through its Rural Prosperity Initiative.

“With new microenterprise creation, we can better address other key facets of economic vitality through business growth, making life better for all residents of eastern North Carolina,” Golden said.

To help support the program, the university announced a microenterprise fund to be established through philanthropic gifts and endowments. More information is at rede.ecu.edu/innovation/microenterprise.