A group of Pamplin College of Business Executive MBA students from the Washington, D.C., area learned about innovation and entrepreneurship first-hand from CEOs and other professionals in the Blacksburg-Roanoke area during a recent visit.

“Having firsthand, in-depth contact with chief executive officers, chief financial officers, and chief technology officers of successful, innovative businesses was an invaluable experience for the students,” said Dana K. Hansson, director of the Executive MBA program, which is based at Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region campus.

To learn more about the Executive MBA program, register for online information sessions on July 10 and July 18.

These entrepreneurs freely shared their personal insights, citing the challenges they faced as they developed a business model and ultimately created a profitable company from an idea, Hansson said.

“It was exciting to hear about the various journeys they have taken and how they reference each other as a community of creative business owners and employers,” she said.

A number of Virginia Tech faculty members and leaders at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute also contributed their expertise to the agenda, which included a hands-on workshop, an experts panel discussion, and company visits. 

Serving on the experts panel were: Amy Ankrum, president and chief executive officer of Qualtrax Inc.; Kevin Jones, chief executive officer and co-founder of Joba Design; James Ramey, principal and fund manager for Middleland Capital, VT-Carilion Innovation Fund; and Mary Miller, director at the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program, known as RAMP.

Ankrum’s compliance management software company was included among those visited by the students. They also met with David Catalano, chief executive officer of Ozmo, a digital consulting firm; Michael Fleming, chief executive officer of TORC Robotics; Joe Meredith, president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center; and a number of founders/CEOs of the center’s companies.

Hansson planned the program in partnership with Pamplin’s Apex Center for Entrepreneurs.

“The Apex Center is growing its programming to include faculty and graduate students in an effort to provide them the tools and resources needed to start and grow a business,” said the center’s executive director, Derick Maggard. 

“The partnership with the Executive MBA Program allowed us to showcase the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Virginia Tech and introduced the skills and resources available to students and faculty to launch new ventures,” he said.

During the hands-on workshop, Howard Haines​, associate director of the Innovate Living-Learning Community at the Apex Center, and Mark Mondry​, assistant professor of management, discussed creative thinking and the benefits of having an entrepreneurial ecosystem to support and promote growth.

“Workshops are a hands-on, minds-on experience that empowers students to learn how to turn their ideas, passion, and purpose into action,” said Haines. “The perspective and skills practiced help students to manage the uncertainty of the future and approach obstacles as opportunities, whether in a corporate setting or when starting a new venture.”

David Caravati, program manager at the Apex Center, accompanied the students during their visit. “Our vision,” he said, “is that entrepreneurship becomes an essential skill set of every Virginia Tech student.”

Written by Barbara Micale and Sookhan Ho

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