UGA Entrepreneurship Certificate helps start-up businesses solve problems

What problem do you want to solve? It was a question Kristi Frank heard often during her Certificate in Entrepreneurship classes. And then during her sophomore year she attended a music festival. Not wanting to worry about her phone, she attached it to a vintage camera strap and wore it around her neck.

“I didn’t have to worry about where I was putting my phone, didn’t have to worry about where it was, or if it was going to get stolen,” said Frank, a 2016 Terry College graduate. “That’s when I realized it solved a problem for me.”

Solving problems, and as it turns out, starting a business. 

Clutch Creations, a company selling products offering convenience for adventurous people on the go, was founded in 2017 and is finding customers nationwide. Frank recently received a $10,000 grant from Cobb County’s Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Program, allowing the startup to increase operations, marketing and advertising. Her original idea, called the Clutch Strap, was developed through lessons learned in her certificate classes.

“They helped me understand starting a business isn’t as intimidating as it seems to be,” said Frank, who was student president of the Society of Entrepreneurs during her time at UGA. “I was educated on how I wanted to start my business, and the certificate helped me take my idea and know how to navigate it. It was cool that like-minded people could collaborate and bring in perspectives on someone else’s business.”

The popularity of the university-wide certificate has grown exponentially since its start in 2016 when the first class of students numbered 33. In the spring 2019 semester, the program had 580 students, with 116 graduating in May, giving them 464 starting this fall. The program runs from October to September each year but enrolls new students each fall and spring, and expects to add between 120 to 150 students next month.

“Being a certificate program, we can offer that to anyone on campus,” said Bob Pinckney, the Milton Anthony (Tony) Greene Director of Entrepreneurship. “For us, this diversity and inclusion and getting ideas and points of view from different parts of campus are very important to the success of the program.”

Ben Sankary can attest to that. He graduated in 2018 from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences with a degree in history, but the certificate appealed to him because of his father’s background.

“My dad started his own business, so I was always interested in small businesses and starting my own, but I didn’t want to do the finance major track and that’s why I chose history,” Sankary said. “I knew I wanted to do something with business, so I found out about the entrepreneurship certificate and said that’s exactly what I need. It was great.”

Certificate holders come from every undergraduate school and college at UGA, representing almost 100 different academic majors. When certificates are awarded from the Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship, which started in fall 2018, every college and school will be represented.

For Sankary, the combined knowledge of history and entrepreneurship led him to the heart of Silicon Valley, where he works for Roam Analytics, a startup using data and machine learning to produce predictive insights for medical device and pharmaceutical companies. Sankary is an operations and finance associate, and as his company raises capital and begins to grow, the skills he learned from the UGA program will allow him to understand the process.

“We just went through financing dealing with cap tables, dilution, how raising money works, and I learned all about this process in the Entrepreneurship Program,” he said. “We learned about founder traits and founder relationships — our founders have very complementary types of relationships, but when the company got a little bit bigger they were missing an operational piece. We brought in a COO and she made such a huge difference. Learning about founding members and how they work together was something they drilled in on in the certificate program. It was all true to what happens, you can see how it works in the business world.”

His training with a startup now preps him for the time when he’s ready to form his own company. “Starting my own business has been on my list for a long time,” Sankary said, “I just have to find the idea to run with.”

“In our classes, we have students from the law school, pharmacy, SPIA, FACS, Grady, Terry, Warnell — from all across campus,” Pinckney said. “Entrepreneurship happens anywhere.”

Frank, who combined her marketing knowledge with an artistic flourish to create and propel her product, said UGA’s Entrepreneurship Program stays with her. She’s quick to consult the program’s staff for guidance, understanding that entrepreneurship is a skill you keep learning.

“They help you, they challenge your thinking, they are mind teasers,” she said. “The community Bob has created and cultivated is truly the special sauce of the program. The certificate program puts you on a platform to launch whenever you do have the idea. It puts a fire in you to start to question what needs are out there that I can solve.”

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