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More colleges emphasizing entrepreneurship

Ursinus College has established a center on entrepreneurship.

Ursinus College will establish a center for entrepreneurship to help students develop creative projects that cross disciplines and apply what they are learning on the small, liberal arts campus.

As part of the effort, the 1,600-student Collegeville college will hold a competition in April to encourage students to develop ideas for a marketable product or service, or that address a social problem. The top prize will be $7,500, plus free housing for the summer so students can carry out their projects.

The new center, announced Monday, puts Ursinus among a growing number of colleges nationally to emphasize entrepreneurship.

Drexel University in February announced that it would use a $12.5 million gift to establish a school of entrepreneurship.

Villanova and Bucknell Universities are working with the Kern Entrepreneurial Education Network to help engineering students become more entrepreneurial. Villanova also has a center for innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship that works across the university's colleges.

Temple University and Philadelphia University received $3 million from the Blackstone Group, an investment firm, to foster entrepreneurship.

And La Salle University in 2010 founded a center for entrepreneurship in 2010.

"We are seeing more and more examples," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. "It's one of the best ways for students to actually apply the concepts and the knowledge they are studying."

At Ursinus, the center — called U-Imagine! The Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies — will be led by three professors: Carol Cirka from business and economics, Rebecca Jaroff from English, and April Kontostathis from mathematics and computer science. It will open next semester in a campus building yet to be determined, Kontostathis said.

Kontostathis, a computer science professor, began advocating for the center about a year ago when students in her software engineering class developed applications — including one to help patients with severe mental illnesses manage their symptoms — and found no one to help launch and market them.

"I thought it would be really nice if we had a center at that time to get advice," said Kontostathis, who is in her 11th year at Ursinus. "If I have this need, others probably have this need as well."

Liberal arts colleges increasingly want to give their students "a more concrete transitional path between their education and careers," she said.

The center will involve students from all majors, she said and will look at projects with a liberal arts perspective, exploring for example: "What are the ethical considerations?".

The new competition, called U-Innovate!, is being funded with a $70,000 gift from trustee Will Abele, an Ursinus alumnus and owner of Henry Troemner L.L.C., a West Deptford manufacturer of precision weights, high precision calibration services and laboratory equipment. In addition to the first place prize, students will vie for a second place of $5,000 and third place of $3,000, also with the option of free summer housing.

The center will bring in guest speakers kicking off in January with Anne Beiler, founder of Auntie Anne's Pretzels. Retired executives also will be brought on campus to help students develop their projects, she said.

Bobby Fong, president of Ursinus, said the new center will nurture creativity and originality, qualities he said were essential.

"One of the most important things we can do for our students is help them develop a capacity for judgment in new and unfamiliar situations," he said. "Employers are looking not only for people who can do jobs as they currently exist but who can change as the company changes."