New Northeast TN resident focused on building entrepreneur innovator program for ETSU, community

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“Our number one objective is to serve our community – the students, leaders, veterans, and adjoining colleges,” says Sonu Mirchandani, a faculty member in ETSU’s College of Business and Technology. “We’re trying to build an entrepreneur innovator program that serves students, community members, veterans and eventually high schools with classwork and hands-on activities.”

We met the former Maryland resident who moved to Tennessee about a year ago during the recent “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival” in Nashville where he was taking in the events and engaging with many of the attendees.

Mirchandani is a long-time consultant to start-ups and was involved in taking one new venture public. Now, he’s charged by ETSU with leading the revamping of its academic entrepreneur innovation minor and certificate programs.

Current students are already getting a taste of the new curriculum. Mirchandani is teaching one of the courses – Entrepreneurship Innovation Mindset – this semester even as the course approval process moves along.

Under the framework that he is developing, students will take a total of 21 hours to qualify for the minor. Three are core classes that all students must take. In addition to Entrepreneurship Innovation Mindset, they are Small Business Management and a hands-on incubation lab. ETSU has its own commercial business incubator, the Innovation Lab, plus an on-site Small Business Development Center (TSBDC).

Students in the revamped minor will take four elective classes in an industry vertical.

“It’s very interdisciplinary,” Mirchandani says. “We want to make it flexible.”

What does he mean by that description?

He says the goal is to help the students prepare for being successful as entrepreneurs by learning the basics of innovative thinking and operating a business (the core classes) while, at the same time, gaining knowledge in the field where they plan to start their new venture (the electives).

“Students learn entrepreneurship innovation as well as an industry vertical,” Mirchandani explains, suggesting that some of those verticals could be in fields like fashion merchandising, gaming, eCommerce, manufacturing/robotics, or even outdoor recreation that draw on many of ETSU’s academic programs.

He says that flexibility is particularly important. That means coursework needs to be responsive to the schedules of program attendees. In the case of students, flexibility means recognizing that one-half of ETSU’s students have at least one part-time job. For veterans, flexibility means completing the program in the evenings. For community members, flexibility may mean doing the programs on Friday night and/or Saturdays.

“Entrepreneurship education needs to be responsive to their schedules,” Mirchandani says. “We’re seeking alumni and community business mentors, advisors from VC/Angels to help us, as well as representatives from co-working spaces, and incubators and accelerators to help us.”

To learn more about this or to support their program, interested individuals can contact Mirchandani at mirchandani@etsu.edu.

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