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Real-World Problems, Meet Your Solutions: CALS’ New Entrepreneurship Series

New CALS Entrepreneurship series of classes

Aspiring agribusiness entrepreneurs now have three new CALS courses focused on bringing ideas from concept to commercialization.

A serial agribusiness developer wanted to know whether an oyster farm on a North Carolina island could be profitable.

A local nursery sought suggestions for marketing plants online.

They came to CALS for insight: Students in a new course series on agribusiness entrepreneurship spent five weeks at a Raleigh business incubator helping real-world businesses with these and other entrepreneurial challenges.

Developed by the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ARE) and the Poole College of Management, the course sequence kicked off last fall.

Now is the right time for these courses, ARE Professor Kelly Zering said. And NC State is the right place: The university ranks among the nation’s Top 20 schools for undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. New technologies — gene editing, precision farming, robotics and more — are transforming farming. And that’s led to increased investment in ag and ag biotech.

“Many people view this as a revolution in agricultural technology,” he said. “Capabilities are expanding, and the need for innovation and new companies and services for farmers is growing every day.”

The fall class, Principles of Agribusiness Entrepreneurship, was taught by NC State’s Assistant Vice Provost for Entrepreneurship Lewis Sheats. Students describe the experience as “incredible,” “awesome,” “a great experience” and “my favorite class.”

Adding tailored programs in agribusiness entrepreneurship is a key step toward continued agribusiness development in rural areas struggling to attract jobs, said ARE Department Head John Beghin. The department wants to do more, he said, not only in teaching but also in research and extension.

This spring, Zering is teaching New Agribusiness Venture Development. The course gives student teams experience with the nuts and bolts of moving ideas to the marketplace.

The third course, a practicum, will give students more in-depth experience working with companies to find answers to entrepreneurial challenges.

The sequence gives agribusiness management students the chance to earn a concentration in agribusiness entrepreneurship, and ARE plans to offer a minor open to all CALS students as well as graduate-level courses and training for postdoctoral scientists.

At each level, ARE will take a hands-on approach that puts students in touch with potential business mentors and the challenges they face.

“In the experiential setting, they … focus and see the applicability of what we teach,” Beghin said. “They remember what they learn.”

The courses give students the kind of credentials that companies want in new employees, aspiring entrepreneur Charles Eason said.

“When companies look at your resume, it’s not OK just to have an education,” he said. “You need to have these experiences — these real-world experiences.”