On a recent Friday morning, UNC’s Alumni Hall was bustling with the sound of change-makers of multiple generations converging.

Prominent entrepreneurs had journeyed to UNC from around the state and the country to connect with students through Kenan-Flagler’s Adams Apprenticeship program. The apprenticeship is a pioneering model to give promising student entrepreneurs their big break.

As a new apprentice, I’m using the program to prepare myself for my career after graduation.

I plan on working with incubators and sustainability startups in developing countries. The apprenticeship is giving me the opportunity to meet experienced entrepreneurs in international development and sustainability who have already done what I hope to.

The program’s creator, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies Director Ted Zoller, says one “big break” typically changes the career trajectories of the most successful entrepreneurs. And the Adams Apprenticeship “helps UNC’s brightest entrepreneurial students move those breaks sooner,” he says. (Read ExitEvent’s story on the creation of the apprenticeship here.)

Ted Zoller is instigator of the Adams Apprenticeship. He’s also director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Kenan-Flagler. Credit: York Wilson Photo

The forum on February 17 kicked off the yearlong program where my fellow apprentices and I will build a board of advisors that will follow up through our careers. We will be given access to a network of 160 advisors, through forums in Chapel Hill, New York and San Francisco to help accelerate our careers.

A Lasting Network

The access the program gives us to its network is unique among universities. While most universities offer mentorship during college, the relationships built here could extend for years to come.

After all, for most students, the volatility of a startup career won’t kick in until after graduation. Before I hit difficult decisions or encounter failure, I plan to build a support network. The Adams advisors help make that network wider and more purposeful.

My group leader, Conor Hartman, is a serial entrepreneur in international development. He shares:“The neat thing is that these relationships will continue to evolve as the apprentices graduate from the program and embark on their careers, so the time we spend together within the context of the program is really just the beginning.”

It’s not just about networking—my mentors are helping me define my path and articulate my purpose. In my daily life as a student, it’s difficult to find role models who have done what I hope to: work abroad and later start a sustainable company.

At the forum, I met entrepreneurs who work globally and several CEOs of sustainable energy companies. At this early stage in my career, it’s important to find role models.

One of my newest role models is Robin Richards Donohoe, who was recognized with the The Adams’ Entrepreneurial Pioneer Award during the forum. As a general partner of Draper Richards, she was an early investor in Hotmail and Skype. She is now using her expertise and funds for venture philanthropy. Her foundation accelerates social ventures by providing years of investing experience in addition to capital.

Robin Richard Donohoe is a UNC graduate who now works as a general partner at Draper Richards in Silicon Valley. Credit: York Wilson Photo

Giving back in this way is my dream. I plan to spend my time after graduation helping incubators and accelerators in Latin America build the resources and community to support great entrepreneurship. I believe helping others solve the problems that directly affect them is the most effective way to create lasting change.

Access to entrepreneurs who have already left this kind of legacy is crucial for students like me.

Wide-ranging student perspectives

Time spent with my fellow apprentices has been the highlight of the program for me. Each student brings a unique background to the program. We discuss our career plans at our weekly meetings and explore industry-specific topics in smaller groups.

“I love that we have a diversity of thought, of education, and background and geography but all share this common drive for entrepreneurship” says Alexandra Hehlen, an undergraduate apprentice.

She wants to start a sustainable fashion company. “I think that the fashion industry can have tremendous impact but business people need to be daring enough to make it happen,” she says.

The apprentices share a drive to impact in industries ranging from finance to international development to real estate. We are pursuing graduate degrees in Public Health, Law and Business and others in 11 different undergraduate degree programs and we have a wide range of interests. Some have built successful companies already, whereas others are new to considering entrepreneurship as a career path.

Bold vision is common theme

Collectively, the group embraces innovation as a life skill and a path for change.

“I think the entrepreneurial mindset is really important in terms of living a healthy lifestyle but also in terms of how I address problems” says Kristen Lee, an apprentice with a passion for food systems.

I define innovation as creative problem solving for genuine impact. This is something that goes beyond the classroom.

Andrew Skinner is pictured here, center, at the Adams Apprenticeship event Friday, February 17. Credit: York Wilson Photo

I’ve been building organizations for five years now and will soon begin founding startups. The support I need goes beyond my network. To empower students to be great entrepreneurs, universities need to become more dynamic. The Adams Apprenticeship is helping make that leap by bringing a wide range of impact-drivers in one room and putting connections first.

Our dynamic world calls for dynamic education. The Adams’ Apprenticeship is leading the way in this direction—positing that to create real impact, universities need to take education beyond the classroom.