With its September 15th deadline looming, entrepreneurial first-year MBA students at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School are busily putting the finishing touches on their applications, hoping to secure a spot in the next cohort of an innovative program the school unveiled in early 2015. For the 20 to 30 students chosen, participation in the Adams Apprenticeship could be a “game-changer,” according to Ted Zoller, director of Kenan-Flagler’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.
The program, named for UNC benefactor, entrepreneur and pharmaceutical pioneer John Adams and based partially on research done by Zoller himself, is part of a long-term strategy to help students lead successful entrepreneurial careers. In studying the careers of serial entrepreneurs, Zoller identified certain patterns in the lessons those entrepreneurs learned and how those lessons impacted their paths to success. The idea behind the apprenticeship program is to expose students early on to as many of those lessons as possible.
As part of the program, participants enroll in an “Entrepreneurs Lab” course and six co-curricular sessions, attend networking events across the year and develop a customized entrepreneurial leadership profile designed to help them internally evaluate their skill sets and values. Then, working with entrepreneurs-in-residence, the students create their own personal board of advisors, who, Zoller hopes, will serve as lifelong resources and propel the students toward entrepreneurial success.
“What I find with students coming out of university is that they will typically make the transition to becoming an entrepreneur five to 10 years after they graduate,” Zoller told ExitEvent, a Durham-based news site for emerging companies and investors. “They need a little bit more experience when we’re talking about certain industries. We look at the Adams Apprenticeship as a long-ball type of strategy to help support our students who see themselves as founders over the long haul.”
In his work, Zoller spotted an important pattern among successful entrepreneurs, namely that they often had exposure to the tumultuous startup market early on. With the Adams Apprenticeship program, Kenan-Flagler hopes to give its students an advantage no other university in the country currently offers.
In 2015, the program’s inaugural year, a group of Adams Advisors drawn from UNC’s broad alumni network helped select the first group of students. Dina Rousset, associate director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, helped lead the program’s start. In her early work, Rousset found that the traditional one-on-one mentorship may not be the best approach for the program.
“As we originally began designing this as a mentorship program, we thought about a one-on-one. What we heard from both sides was that a one-on-one relationship is really difficult,” she told ExitEvent. “Generally, you don’t have one advisor in your life. We wanted to help those students build a personal board of advisors.”
Not limited solely to business students, the Adams Apprenticeship is available for UNC undergraduate and graduate students studying any field, which Zoller believes is vital for the program’s success.
“In fact, the diversity of mixing grads and undergrads and mixing people from business backgrounds and non-business backgrounds has been a big hit,” he told ExitEvent. “We’ve created a diverse model where they coach one another.”
Learn more about Kenan-Flager’s Adams Apprenticeship program.