:Chattanooga; :Apr 25, 2009; :Business; :23

Entrepreneurship urged among grads

By Mike Pare mpare@timesfreepress.com

    Chattanooga’s economic future lies in keeping the area’s college students here after graduation and helping them create businesses, a Yale University entrepreneurship expert said Friday.

“Students are an untapped resource of entrepreneurship,” said Jon Soderstrom, managing director of Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research.

Dr. Soderstrom, who keynoted a technology transfer conference sponsored by the city’s Enterprise Center, said engineering students especially are good candidates.

    “It’s in their heads,” he said. “That’s the way they think.”

    Chattanooga has the elements young entrepreneurs are looking for in a place to live, said Dr. Soderstrom.

    “They want to live in a cool place,” he said, adding they like the arts and locations with natural beauty. “They want to work hard. They want to play hard.”

    But Dr. Soderstrom said the students need help with business plans and in conceptualizing a product someone will buy.

    “They’ve studied entrepreneurship but never done it,” he said. “They want to be hooked up with attorneys, accountants.”

    Wayne Cropp, the Enterprise Center’s chief executive, said Chattanooga is well positioned and it has been able to weather much of the economic
storm that’s hit the country.

    “We want to make sure we’re building a strong economic base,” Mr. Cropp said.

    He cited the renaissance of the Main Street area into a center for the arts and innovation as becoming an attractive place for entrepreneurs.

    Dr. Soderstrom said if the area captures the talent of college students, they’ll create businesses which will ultimately employ more people than will Volkswagen.

    He said he was in Tennessee when General Motors picked the state for its Saturn plant and recalled the excitement about the announcement.

    Now, Dr. Soderstrom said, the Saturn plant is among more than a dozen GM is closing for an extended period over the summer because of the automaker’s financial problems.

Jon Soderstrom