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University of North Alabama

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The University of North Alabama is a liberal arts college in one of the oldest and most historic cities in the state. The school was foudned on a basis of education and nursing and has grown into a culture of arts, entrepreneurship, and a wide array of multidisciplinary studies. Last year, the College of Business brought Innovation Engineering onto campus, transforming the community and department into a place where cultivating entrepreneurship and STEM programs is vital.

Four students were chosen to pursue the Innovation Fellows Candidacy Program last Fall. We work alongside a faculty group whose aim is to spread Innovation Engineering and Entrepreneurship into all departments as well as bring Engineering as a program onto campus. Our job is to get students excited and informed about these changes, and to educate them on the vitality that skills of entrepreneurship and innovation holds in their majors and career paths.

While surveying, students informed us that they didn’t believe their majors needed entrepreneurship or innovation, because it wasn’t a business department and they didn’t want to own a business. First, we had to change the verbiage to get students to understand that this topic is not only relevant, but absolutely VITAL for their majors, departments, and careers, community and the university.

Promoting Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Though our community and faculty is excited and engaged about bringing these changes to UNA, the students are disconnected, lacking motivation or knowledge in the process, terms, importance, or relevance. During our team meeting, the candidates analyzed a SWOT analysis of the culture at UNA. We found the following Strengths, Weakenesses, Opportunities, and Threats:


-University Leadership: Our students have ample support and opportunity to create or grow organizations with unlimited resources. We push for students to become involved in some way, and over half of our students are involved in two or more organizations on campus. We also have a fair Student Allocations system with processes in place to provide decent funding to all organizations. 

-Community Leadership: The Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, alongside the Generator, the Chamber of Commerce, and other local companies long to see students succeed. The environment of Florence is a perfect climate for new entrepreneurs, and the city strives on fulfilling dreams and passions. 

-Collaborative Spirit/Positivity: We have found that the community and students, though possibly unknowledgable, is still welcoming to these ideals and change. We have high spirits for new programs and abundant resources as well. 

-Diversification: UNA has one of the largest international programs, as well as one of the most variable, student bases in the state. Our diversity allows for a better culture for innovation, as new perspectives and behaviors can be found within the community. 



-Weak presence: From our research, Innovation and Engineering and STEM is not only missing on campus, but we also have a disconnected view of its importance to the community. Many of the students believe the arts is enough and cannot see a need for analytical, technical communication. 

-Misunderstood: We need to change language/verbiage of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in order to relate to students. Right now, it is a confusing and daunting term. 



-Community: Florence and the Shoals are now primed up for innovation and entrepreneurship through new scholarships, investors, media, and a major increase of local businesses gaining attention from a national and international market. 

-Employment for IE: All around the Florence/Huntsville area, engineering and analytics mixed with a business and innovation background is needed and desired. Jobs are beginning to hire again in our area, and having these skill sets is greatly benefitting both UNA and the community. 

-Mane Capital Fund: Finally, UNA has a large and sustainable fund for entrepreneurship and capital for students. This fund holds a board of directiors and officers that is spreading the word of innovation and entrepreneurship and our program everywhere they go. 



-Running out of capital: Though it is short-term sustainable, we must continue to find investors and add value for people to invest in this idea, or we will lose all funding. 

-Lack of resources (technology): Due to a lacking technological presence, we are behind other large cities in the form of technology, which can hinder our innovation. We need the  skills in order to become a greater university. 

Encouraging Faculty Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The backing of the faculty at UNA is very prevalent. The faculty and staff are the whole reason we are able to have the limited amount of innovation and entrepreneurship that we do have. They are working hand and hand with us to increase the amount of innovation and entrepreneurship that is on our campus. They are bringing in different start-ups and programs to help increase the awareness of the importance. The faculty are deep in planning to implement STEM on our campus. They are also trying to involve innovation and entrepreneurship into all majors, internships, and careers. The staff and faculty here at UNA are very supportive and understand the importance of having innovation and entrepreneurship on campus and the positive impact it can have on the student’s life and careers.

Actively Supporting the University Technology Transfer Function

Sadly, this is a section that we are missing ENTIRELY. However, our team and the faculty recognizes this, and we are on our way to bring in decision makers, innovators, idea makers, and funders into this. 

Facilitating University-Industry Collaboration

With the help of the University of North Alabama and substantial leaders in the area, our community has been able to create and maintain key centers such as the Generator and the Entrepreneurial Center. The Generator is UNA’s very own student incubator center that will be used to assist aspiring students with business startups. The Entrepreneur Center will be used to further facilitate un-peraralled industry collaboration. With these resources combined we will have a full arsenal of resources at our fingertips to further promote the growth of UNA.

Please refer to this link for more information on the Generator:

Engaging with Regional and Local Economic Development Effort

As our canvas below includes, we have numerous regional and local economic development efforts around the Shoals. Several include: 

- Alabama Launchpad

Alabama Launchpad helps high growth companies start, stay and grow in Alabama while supporting, advocating, and recognizing entrepreneurship statewide. Alabama Launchpad is a program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

-Shoals Entrepreneurial Center

We are a business incubator. That means we work with start-up and emerging companies to help them successfully launch and grow. As a business incubator, we offer shared space, equipment and resources in a controlled-overhead environment. Because those costs are controlled, start-up businesses can allocate more of their limited resources to other things that will help the business grow.

Business incubation is a proven tool for regional economic growth. Our unique cluster of commercial space, business counseling and technical assistance, and wide-ranging network of partners can provide a critical framework to help entrepreneurs meet their business goals. We continually look for opportunities to expand and strengthen our services, facilities, and other resources. Our business clients continue to expand and grow, which creates a great driver for the SEC’s work. We hope that you will find our website helpful and look forward to working with you to expand economic opportunities.

The SEC has proven to be a major part of the Shoals area economic development team. Since 1992, the SEC incubator network has incubated more than 150 businesses and created more than 1,500 jobs. A study conducted by the University of North Alabama School of Business indicates the SEC clients and graduates provide the annual following economic impact:

  • Expenditure effect of $98 million for the Shoals Economy
  • Sales tax impact of $5.3 million
  • Alabama State Income Tax of $2.01 million

-College of Business

Innovation Engineering is a groundbreaking program that provides a systematic approach to innovation. The department has worked dilligently to provide students with a business background every opportunity for internships and research in the fields of innovation and entreprenuership. 

-Shoals Chamber of Commerce

Our Chamber is the organization of influence that enables Shoals area citizens to achieve a higher standard of living and a better quality of life through the economic successes of its members. As a Chamber member, you will be associated with more than 1,000 other Shoals Area businesses employing more than 45,000 people. The Shoals Chamber is one of the TOP 10 largest Chambers of Commerce in Alabama. The majority of our membership is small business with approximately 90% having 50 or fewer employees - and nearly 67% with 15 employees or less. General direction and policy are set by a 31 member Board of Directors elected by, and responsible to, the membership. Day-to-day operations are carried out by a full-time staff of professionals. They coordinate the efforts of the many volunteer workers within the the Chamber. The volunteer members work through numerous committees in these major departments: Education and Workforce Readiness, Business Growth, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Public Policy, Advocacy and Activism and Investor Relations and Marketing.

Our University does a great job of engaging in regional and local economic development efforts.  The student’s access to the university’s Generator gives them the opportunity to work along side a new start up that was helped launched by the Alabama Launchpad.  The support we get from the College of Business is unparalleled.  The College of Business and the Shoals Chamber of Commerce work together to create a new culture of entrepreneurship and innovation around Florence, AL. “Tech startups in the Shoals such as Andy Alonso and Brandon Gillis’ PartCycle and Robbie Hillis’ The Ark Labs, for example, now have access to investor partnerships without having to leave the Shoals.“ Faculty does a great job in connecting students with the community and its partner’s including: Shoals Chamber of Commerce, Shoal Entrepreneurial Center, Tech MeetUp entrepreneurs. Thanks to the Shoals Entrepreneurial Center and its partnership with an Angel Capitol Group, students have the opportunity win millions of dollars in capitol if they have the next unique idea.

Landscape Canvas

Related Links

Project Spring 2016 Pitch 

University of North Alabama

Universtiy of North Alabama Student Priorities

University Innovation Fellows

Spring 2016:

Abigail Holbert

Nathan Martin

Ryan Mason

Grace Piper