By Greg Russell
A new business incubator located in the FedEx Institute of Technology at the University
of Memphis may have you walking on water one day.
The University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is providing entrepreneurs
— young and old alike — the tools they need to turn a business idea into reality.
The Center, funded by the Small Business Administration, provides the business and
legal expertise needed to start a business, including startup fees.
“Our motto is ‘Making it Real,’” says program director Kelly Penwell. “There are a
lot of organizations out there doing what we are doing, but very few of them make
“We develop a program that entrepreneurs can genuinely follow — not just people with
an EMBA, but people from all walks of life who have the enthusiasm and have the dream
to start their own business.”
Penwell says the Center has helped 23 clients launch business plans since it opened
this past summer.
“We have had veterans, established businessmen, PhD candidates, students — even a
16-year-old — come through our doors looking for help.”
The Center can even help those who aren’t exactly sure what type of business they
want to launch.
Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation graduate assistants Jerry Ivery,
Chad Holmes and Marybeth Collins
“Some people walk in and say, ‘I don’t know what I want to do. I do know I want to
start a business though,’” says Chad Holmes, a graduate assistant with the Center.
“Our program manager is sitting on a ton of ideas that we can provide them, or we
can find out what their passion is and make them an idea right on the spot.”
“We then help them design and develop their idea,” adds fellow graduate assistant
Jerry Ivery. “We connect you with the people who can help you along the way.”
Penwell says students should not shy away from the Center simply because of their
“This gives students another pathway to create their career plan, to take the things
they have learned at the U of M and put it to work,” she says.
The Center partners with the Fogelman College of Business & Economics and the Cecil
C. Humphreys School of Law to deliver a “complete package of resources” to get an
entrepreneur headed in the right direction.
The process is easy and open to most anyone in the community. It just takes a phone
call or visit to the Center to get started.
“I feel like if someone can come up with the idea of Chia Pets and make money on that,
you can pretty much sell anything,” Penwell says.
Under Penwell’s direction, Holmes provides financial expertise, Ivery gives technical
support while graduate student Marybeth Collins is responsible for marketing.
The Center is an offshoot of the Crews Venture Lab, a $2 million business startup
facilitator that will be located in the former Masonic Lodge at Walker and Patterson
near the main U of M campus.
Penwell says the Center’s purpose is to create jobs and expand industry. It has already
helped those in the food, fashion, bio-medical engineering, recreation and technology
industries, just to name a few.
Holmes says that no idea is too far out there.
“We had one client who wants to develop a device to help people walk on water,” he
says. “Looking at what is already being done (in this field), that might be a possibility.”
(Contact Penwell at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.)