It’s a hot July afternoon and, despite the blinding sun beating down on the Edney Innovation Center, everyone scrambles across the roof patio to soak in the building’s stunning 360-degree view of Chattanooga, spotting UTC’s nearby campus and Lookout Mountain looming in the distance.
Enjoying the view is a group of European students from 18 different countries participating in the U.S. Department of State’s Study at the U.S. Institute for Student Leaders (SUSI). The State Department partners with nonprofit FHI 360 to administer the SUSI program.
This summer marks the third year in a row that the SUSI program, specifically a group of students studying social entrepreneurship, is calling UTC its home base.
The group will spend the next month learning from faculty in the Gary W. Rollins College of Business and Chattanooga professionals at local businesses and nonprofits. Visits to local entrepreneurial hubs and startups including INCubator, Mad Priest Coffee and green|spaces give students insight into the work behind creating a company from scratch.
Community service work with local nonprofits Northside Neighborhood House, Boys and Girls Club of Chattanooga and the Salvation Army, to name a few, give the students first-hand experience in providing social services to a community.
The group also got a crash-course introduction to startup accelerator Co.Lab, described as a “front door for entrepreneurs” by Allison Reedy, chief operating officer, as she addressed the SUSI participants in Co.Lab’s first-floor office space of the Edney building.
After picking Reedy’s brain with questions about startups conceived in Chattanooga and Co.Lab’s processes for working with budding companies, the group got a quick tour of the Edney, dropping in to see the Society of Work, a shared office space housing a number of businesses and freelancers on the sixth floor.
The students take advantage of some photo ops on the 11th-floor roof patio, then head inside and begin working through a Co.Starters Canvas, which looks like a simple worksheet with boxes and catchy icons denoting different needs and aspects of a business. Essentially, it’s a simplified map navigating the needs and questions that any entrepreneur would need to address in the early stages of developing a business.
Liliia Lutsenko, who is studying international business and economics back home in Ukraine, wants to do something about the huge gap in entrepreneurship education among low-income students in her home country. She applied to the SUSI program to grow her ideas and take home new perspectives. Social entrepreneurship is not as developed in Ukraine, she says.
“I applied with hope to develop my own project with social entrepreneurship, to be a starter, to be a launcher of ideas in Ukraine,” she says.
Already she’s getting real-world experience in social entrepreneurship, finding exciting, new ways to make social change, she says, and she’s thankful for opportunities to apply the theories she learned in school to solve tangible problems. Adding to that, she says, the network she’s building with peers and future European leaders is proving this program to be a fruitful one.
“Thank you UTC for such an unforgettable summer,” Lutsenko adds.