Runyon, LAS unveil Innovation + Entrepreneurship Academy

Pictured are social entrepreneurship workshop participants with Jassma’Ray Johnson, a junior in psychology and founder of Simply Samone lip gloss.

Rory Mcdermott

Interested in starting a business, the concept of entrepreneurship or producing the next big idea? How about making money, building professional skills or ABC’s popular TV show “Shark Tank”?

If you possess any of these interests, you are the perfect candidate for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ (LAS) new Innovation + Entrepreneurship Academy.

The Innovation + Entrepreneurship (I+E) Academy is a two-year program designed to help students through the idea process “from concept to creation.” Rebecca Runyon, a 2018 Iowa State graduate in agricultural studies, is the director of the program in its growing days.

“You might already have [an idea] going, which is great,” Runyon said. “Even if you have no idea, but you’re curious, curiosity is the only prerequisite for this program.”

Runyon’s own curiosity led to her success as a student-entrepreneur. While at Iowa State, she successfully launched Lunchsox, an environmentally conscious business that sells socks and donates proceeds to fight childhood hunger.

As Runyon notes, the I+E Academy appeals to all students as it looks to build its curriculum and gain members. The program features four different paths for students of varying goal types. In addition to traditional business ideas, the program also encourages ideas designed for bettering the community.

Miranda Tze, a junior in economics, was led to the I+E Academy by following her passion for impacting societal institutions.

“I’m interested in education reform for preschool to high school-age children, as it pertains to the non-cognitive skills they are taught,” Tze said. “I’m enrolled because I’m interested in social innovation and civic engagement, rather than business entrepreneurship.”

The program incorporates mentorship into the curriculum with alumni and other successful entrepreneurs. Additionally, courses such as the introductory LAS 345X guide informational learning and instruction.

“The goal of the program is to help students grow skills in leadership, communication, partnerships and networking,” Runyon said.

Innovation and entrepreneurship are challenging areas that often find individuals running into obstacles. As fate would have it, the program ran into a considerable problem of its own — the COVID-19 pandemic. LAS College originally intended to begin the I+E Academy during the fall 2020 semester. However, the arrival of the pandemic last spring caused a yearlong delay in its release.

“Communication has been hard during the pandemic,” Runyon said. “We would have hoped to have more students on campus, leading to more engagement in our kickoff activities, but we’ve simply had to be creative in ways to engage with students.”

A year later, the I+E Academy is again working for its fall production. The Academy presented itself in a variety of ways at LAS Week, from March 22-26. It is also featuring information sessions as a part of its awareness campaign. The goal this spring is to continue gathering nominations and measuring the interest of LAS students.

“You don’t have to be a business major to participate,” Runyon said. “It’s possible to start making that real-world change as a college student regardless of your background or major.”

Like many other students in the program, Tze is eager to begin.

“I’m excited to learn,” Tze said. “I have such a passion for people ー so to be enrolled in a program where I can focus my learning through hands-on experience in civic entrepreneurship and cater to my own goals will be phenomenal. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and I think that others could likely relate.”

Runyon invites any interested student to attend an information session. There are two sessions this week ー 4 p.m. to 5 p.m Monday and Wednesday in the Student Innovation Center Room 4250. If you have any questions, please reach out to Runyon via email, [email protected].