Grant supports budding entrepreneurship
Kyle Witzigman | Sunday, January 19, 2014
Last semester the University of Notre Dame received a $3 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. to support enFocus, a non-profit that aims to help business and community leaders in South Bend collaborate with Notre Dame graduates on bold, innovative solutions that will improve the South Bend community.
“We believe for northern Indiana, and the state of Indiana in general, to grow and change its long-term trajectory in a positive way is to give highly educated, young talent the chance to work and create jobs,” David Murphy,associate dean of entrepreneurship for the Colleges of Science and Engineering and director of the ESTEEM Graduate Program, said.
Lilly Endowment Inc. proposed the question on how to keep the best and brightest in South Bend to avoid “the brain drain” suffered in college towns throughout the state, Murphy said.
“Notre Dame was very much behind enFocus and instrumental in starting it,” Murphy said. “We think enFocus is a perfect opportunity to tell the Lilly folks what we do up here.”
Murphy said the name enFocus is short for “entrepreneurial focus.” The program addresses “local challenges with an entrepreneurial angle,” he said.
Murphy said clients, like the city of South Bend, pay for access to bright entrepreneurs and innovators in the program. Notre Dame students get involved in a broad, diverse range of projects from private, public, and the non-profit sectors, he said.
“[enFocus] is not meant to be viewed as a competitive organization to longstanding organizations already out there, but to say, ‘Hey maybe things can happen in a new, positive way based on young, highly talented individuals staying in the community,’” he said.
enFocus has seen short term success already, Murphy said.
“In our first year we had a lot of demonstrable success to all of our clients. A lot of clients came back and paid in again,” Murphy said. “Our most important goal is execution on the projects we get our students involved in.”
For long-term success, he said enFocus hopes to bring innovative and entrepreneurial innovation to companies that will increase job opportunities by growing businesses.
“Perhaps an organization that is stalled out a little bit could be rejuvenated or pointed in a whole new direction with young talent taking part in these companies,” he said.
As enFocus continues to grow, Murphy said one of the keys to its continued success is the creation of a sustainable business model that is a lot more than just a consulting model.
“We believe over time where enFocus will really have an impact is taking the model that is able to grow and is scalable,” Murphy said. “This can grow and scale into other parts of the state. [This model can] develop intellectual property and connect the dots in the community and across the state.
“We have turned brain drain into brain gain.”