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December 15, 2022 | Tom Ballard

Shawn Carson talks significant growth in UTK’s entrepreneurial offerings

Meet Shawn Carson, the Coordinator of Entrepreneurial Studies at UT Knoxville.

Anyone who has ever crossed paths with Shawn Carson knows about his passion for learning.

We experienced it years ago during his tenure with the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth at Technology 2020, the region’s first venture development organization. More recently, that passion has ranged from his work as a Lecturer in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) to serving as the I-Corps South Regional Node Director.

Today, the thoughtful and thought provoking Carson has taken on an additional role at the university as Coordinator of Entrepreneurial Studies for the Knoxville campus, and it is clearly one that matches his inquiring mind with his passion for educating others and the hockey stick like growth in interest in entrepreneurship on the campus.

Shawn Carson

“Entrepreneurship is so tightly integrated with innovation,” he says. “The essence of entrepreneurship is moving quickly and taking a risk. Innovation is being compressed and corporations are going to need entrepreneurial talent. We have to turnout people who can create value quickly.”

One major initiative just launched in Fall 2022 is the incorporation of an individual assessment called the “Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile,” which is offered to every student taking the “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” course. Why the addition? Carson explains that “by developing an entrepreneurial mindset in our students, we can strengthen the entrepreneurial talent at any company to lead us through the coming disruptive trends.”

To further illustrate the point about the accelerated pace of innovation, Carson noted that widespread adoption of cellphones occurred over 40 years, but the smartphone was widely adopted within just five years. “Think about all the start-ups that were spawned by the development of this technology and many more to come,” he said, “and they all need talent!”

Carson adds that “disruptive innovation is not about the technology – it’s an enabler. What’s more important is the business model, and mindset is central to it.”

He describes his new role as encompassing “all things that are scholarship and curriculum” and adds that “a lot of it is at the undergraduate level, but there’s also a lot of opportunity at the graduate level.”

Today, some six years after joining the Haslam College, Carson is focused on a number of initiatives, and one even includes practicing what he regularly advocates for those interested in starting a business. It’s the all-important customer discovery process, better known as “will someone pay money for this.”

The “this” is a possible full-fledged entrepreneurship major, something that is regularly offered at smaller institutions. Just as he advocates to others, Carson is focused on determining if a need exists, the potential demand, and the value proposition. The fundamental question is “What value would we be creating with a major in Entrepreneurship?”

The other activities three activities involve growing programs . . . the interdisciplinary undergraduate minor with more than 100 graduates a year, a collateral program for business majors that had 315 students enrolled in Fall 2021 and is second only to marketing in enrollment, and a new undergraduate degree in Management with an entrepreneurship concentration.

“Total enrollment in entrepreneurship courses across the campus is projected to be more than 1,000 for this academic year,” Carson says with a good deal of pride. For ENT 350, which is the Introduction to Entrepreneurship or what he describes as the “front door” course, there were seven sections offered to 336 students in 2019-20 and a projected 12 sections for nearly 570 students during 2022-23.

The oldest of the programs, launched in 2016, is the interdisciplinary minor that includes 36 courses from seven UTK colleges and supporting students seeking an undergraduate minor in entrepreneurship. To earn the minor, students must take one required course, select from one of three additional options, and then take an additional three courses from 32 that are electives.

Participating colleges include Haslam, which provides the most courses – 13, a nearly 5x increase since Fall Semester 2015; Communication and Information (seven courses); Herbert College of Agriculture (six courses); Tickle College of Engineering (five courses); Architecture and Design (three courses); and Education, Health and Human Services and Arts and Sciences (one course each).

For both the collateral program for business majors and the new management degree with a concentration in entrepreneurship, Carson says promotion will be key to their success. “One of my roles is to ramp up marketing,” he says.