Innovative mentorship program harnesses the power of the UNC network

Whether their goal is to make the world a better place, satisfy a desire for adventure and exploration or help people in underserved communities, the elite group of UNC students who are part of the Adams Apprenticeship program share one thing in common: they don’t dream small. And they aren’t just dreaming, they’re doing – translating ideas into reality to make a difference in the world.

“A spirit of transformational thinking is a start, but entrepreneurs say thinking about a solution is not enough. They have the entrepreneurial mindset and the skills to do the work and take their ideas into action,” says Judith Cone, UNC-Chapel Hill vice chancellor for commercialization and economic development. “Entrepreneurs see needs and bring solutions to those [problems].”

That’s where UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Adams Apprenticeship comes in. What began as a desire to supercharge entrepreneurship education at the Business School evolved into the creation of a game-changing program that harnesses the power of the Carolina alumni network. Each year, the program connects a new cohort of apprentices with more than 120 seasoned advisors who mentor students and help them translate ideas into real-world success.

“That’s one of the things that key mentors can do – they can see the potential in you and push you to go beyond where you think you can,” says Adams Advisor Vickie Gibbs (MBA ’98). “Sometimes those are hard conversations and sometimes those are great conversations. You have to be able to listen to the critical feedback and utilize it to carry yourself forward.”

 

The program also helps budding entrepreneurs gain access to key resources. “I think that’s what separates the good people from the great people when it comes to really trying to take your venture to the next level,” says Camille McGirt (MPH ’17). “You can work like a maniac and have a really good idea, but if you don’t have access to resources then you might not get very far.”

And the support doesn’t end at graduation. The Adams Apprenticeship is designed to foster long-term relationships and a lifelong network on the premise that each student will eventually transition from apprentice to advisor.

“As I grow and develop as an entrepreneur, I’ll be able to call on these advisors and this network when I need advice,” says Mihir Pershad (BS ’16). “And [I hope] that I will be able to pass that on, too.”

“This commitment involves deciding that you’re going to help pay it forward by bringing up the next generation of entrepreneurs,” says Ted Zoller, T.W. Lewis Clinical Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. “A life of commitment and a life of fulfillment – especially in business – is a life where you’ve given back.”

Adapted from remarks given at the 2016 Adams Forum, a day-long summit for Adams apprentices and advisors.