Jeni Al Bahrani, Director of The Center for Entrepreneurship at Transylvania University

A program at Lexington’s Transylvania University nurtures entrepreneurship among its liberal arts students. The Center for Entrepreneurship promotes creativity and innovation while encouraging students in any academic major – from art to anthropology – to pursue their interests while exploring entrepreneurial career paths.

Louisville Future spoke with Steve Angelucci, assistant to the president at Transylvania, who is leading the initiative, and Jeni Al Bahrani, an experienced business consultant who has been selected as the inaugural director the Center, about its goals.

What is the problem that the Center for Entrepreneurship is helping to solve?

Angelucci: We’re entering what we call the conceptual age, where our typical college graduates will not just hold multiple jobs but multiple careers, and COVID is still redefining what work means. So this is a time where creativity, communication, and agility are very important skills that can’t be outsourced and can’t be automated. I mean, now they’re called durable skills. We used to call them soft skills but now we call them durable skills.

At a time when liberal arts colleges around the country are more impacted by a declining enrollment base, we want to make ours sustainable.

This approach is shown to work?

Angelucci: It’s very effective at helping increase enrollment. It gives us an excellent way to reach out to our alumni and business and organizational community in Lexington, but also our other key markets such as Louisville and Northern Kentucky. It’s not just a business administration focus. It’s to try to help provide a value-added element to any major on our campus.

[Transylvania] President Lewis has been very supportive of this program. He and I have been doing lobbying and advocacy for this program so that it’s seen as a plus to anyone on our campus, not a conflict or contradiction.

Jeni, what focus will you bring to the Center?

Al Bahrani: A lot of funding and resources go toward early stage and even revenue-generating startups that have validated their prototype. There are not a lot of resources for the ideation phase. My fear is that we’re losing indigenous entrepreneurial ideas from the beginning.

You have an entrepreneurial background.

Al Bahrani: I am an entrepreneurial consultant. I grew up in a small business with my father. I can remember standing on my tippy toes or on a stool with a calculator, helping his customers and learning about the business. I had a successful consultancy and this position came open. I jumped at it because my son is attending school at University of Kentucky Gatton College and I could be near him.

People were leaving 30 years of working in industry to start businesses. My business really picked up, with my concentration being in the ideation phase. So when entrepreneurs said, ‘I feel like I can take everything I’ve learned and make a business for myself,’ I helped them create their business model. One of my goals was to teach entrepreneurship and to really inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs in an academic setting.

Your program is not something that is part of a business major.

Al Bahrani: It’s not housed in any program. It serves students across the entire range of disciplines. Steve created the vision behind this mission. I love the work that they did before I came on. They were very intentional about that, very strategic.

What we’re really aimed at doing is promoting creativity and innovation and encouraging students in any major to pursue their interests and their passion.

Then we give them exposure to entrepreneurial pathways for them to reach their goal. We’re initially focusing on engaging students through co-curricular experiential programming events. That includes our pitch competition, workshops, and speaker series. And then, more importantly, opportunities to introduce Transy students to successful and innovative business leaders, entrepreneurs, and organizations.

How does the center engage the community?

Al Bahrani: We have mentors. And we also have judges coming in as well from the community. So we’re intentional on connecting Lexington with our students as well.

Can you give me an example of something you are working on now?

Al Bahrani: Here’s something that derived from a student idea. This student is eager to explore boundaries about solutions to make our campus more sustainable. They wanted to work together and build solutions around sustainability problems that may not be identified yet on campus.

It will be a sprint competition where there are time constraints, because in real life and professional environments, you’re always going to have time constraints to identify and work through problems. We’ll gather customer insights, build a business model canvas, and students will present solutions for making the campus more sustainable. So typically, as you know, pitch competitions can go 24 hours, 48 hours. It’s going to be like ‘a day in the life of a job,’ when you have to identify a problem, articulate the solution and validate it.

What plans are in the works?

Angelucci: The center is planning partnerships with several local and regional groups to deliver experiential programs connecting Transylvania students to relevant businesses and industry leaders. We’re fortunate to have someone like Jeni to lead the way.