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New School of Business Fellowship Helps Students Launch Their Own Company

rayWhen Ray Cohen, co-founder of the cloud-based hotel solutions platform TravelClick, sat in on a business plan pitching competition for School of Business hospitality and tourism management (HTMT) students, he was surprised at the participants’ passion — and candor. While each of the undergraduates had a strategy for launching their enterprise, not one of them actually planned to do it.

After questioning the young innovators, Cohen realized their reluctance wasn’t due to lack of confidence or interest, rather a lack of post-graduate resources. Determined to give these go-getters a chance at chasing their dreams, Cohen worked with School of Business and HTMT leadership to establish a Hospitality Innovator Fellowship.

“Here at the School of Business, we pride ourselves on training the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs who seek to have a positive impact in Charleston, across the country, and around the world,” says Alan Shao, dean of the School of Business. “So, when Ray Cohen generously proposed the idea of funding a fellowship to help our students make their dreams a reality, I couldn’t be more thrilled and honored.”   

Wayne Smith, chair of the HTMT department and associate professor of hospitality, echoed Shao’s sentiments: “Ray is helping to instill an entrepreneurial spirit in our students that will serve them well both personally and professionally. Programs like this give our undergraduates the tools and support to forge their own futures — and we are proud to be a part of it.”

The fellowship, which launches this fall, is designed to give young entrepreneurs guidance as they conceptualize, pitch, and execute a service-based business throughout the course of their senior year. And while the fellowship is restricted to seniors only, all majors are welcome.

But be warned, participation is limited, classes are rigorous and the competition is fierce, says Smith. “Ultimately, we are looking for people who want to work hard to make their dreams happen,” he says. “The fellowship gives students a roadmap to do just that. It will definitely be fun and absolutely life changing, but it won’t be easy.”

In order to be eligible for the fellowship, students must first enroll in the Fall HTMT 360-03 Hospitality Innovation course, where they will have the opportunity to create and refine a business proposal with a partner. The class, which will also focus on fostering team dynamics and developing sales strategies, culminates with the end-of-the-year competition. The teams will pitch their business plans to a panel of multi-disciplinary judges who will select the most promising student fellows. 

Once chosen, the fellows must enroll in the Spring HTMT 420: Business Plan Design (or similar) course for further mentorship and refinement of their accepted business concept. 

At the conclusion of HTMT 420, the fellows must take the Summer HTMT 360: Business Launch Pad course for disbursement of the Hospitality Innovator Fellowship grant. The grant will cover both living and startup costs — allowing graduates to fully concentrate on executing their finished business plan.

The icing on the cake? Throughout the entire experience, fellows will have access to a large network of local business professionals who will not only serves as mentors, but as constant reminders of what can happen when you work hard, stay focused, and follow your dreams.

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