By Sam Waltz
Japanese business leaders stormed the ramparts of the global economy in the 1960s and 1970s with a long-term vision, thinking ahead decades, as the Chinese have been doing over the last decade.
Neither has anything on Delaware’s own Paul McConnell who is putting his own assets on the line – in business and in philanthropy – to expand opportunities for the next generation of Delaware entrepreneurs.
The University of Delaware’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship created the Paul and Linda McConnell Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative, based on a McConnell family gift, which aims to raise awareness of entrepreneurship as a viable career path and engage youth in world-class educational programming.
“We have to build an entrepreneurial culture right here in Delaware,” McConnell said. “I’m not thinking about today or tomorrow, I’m thinking about 15, 20 and 25 years from now. I feel this Horn Program has some potential to be the catalyst for this whole entrepreneurial thing.”
The Diamond Challenge for High School Entrepreneurs, with which McConnell has been involved since its 2012 launch, serves as the cornerstone of the Paul and Linda McConnell Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative.
It’s an innovative business concept competition to spark creativity and the development of an entrepreneurial mindset. It teaches participants how to build their businesses like scientists by gathering evidence to test the validity of business model assumptions.
McConnell, 62, is a 1970 Salesianum School grad and a 1974 University of Delaware grad, majoring in Political Science. He started his first company, McConnell Brothers Inc., with his brother Dan on May 24, 1974 and missed his own UD graduation because of work. That company, focused on residential real estate and construction, still operates.
His businesses have gone through a variety of incarnations; McConnell Development started in 1989, and Scott Johnson came aboard as a partner in McConnell Johnson a decade or so later.
“In Development Management, we’re renovating the buildings we buy and then we operate them,” said McConnell, who owns the Hercules Building downtown with Johnson. “I listened to our customers, what their needs were, and what their needs are. We saw the building business becoming obsolete if we didn’t adapt and enhance our buildings, and that led us to the business we are in today.”
In terms of his work with his alma mater the UD and the Horn program, he noted, “This is not my legacy, this is my next beginning! I still feel like my best years are ahead of me.
“Education and Economic Development working in partnership is essential. Places where business and entrepreneurship rock and roll are where education and economic development are engaged, where business is engaged in education, and education is engaged in business. They are essential. It’s not about legacy.”
McConnell added that technology innovation is all about creating a new culture, attractive to the young people who are interested.
The Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, launched in 2012, has its roots in the Entrepreneurial Studies Program, which was founded in 2006 by Scott Jones. Jones is now the chair of the Accounting and MIS Departments at the Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics. Dan Freeman took over the program in Feb. 2011. The program offers the following fields of study:
- Undergraduate Major in Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation (currently 26 students);
- Undergraduate Minor in Entrepreneurial Studies (65 students);
- MBA Concentration in Entrepreneurship & Technology Innovation;
- Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship & Technology Innovation; and
- In Fall 2015m a Master of Science in Entrepreneurship & Design.
“Delaware has an imperative to improve innovation readiness for all citizens, from young to old, said Freeman. “The world is changing rapidly and the pace of change is continuing to accelerate. Those who are prepared to be entrepreneurial and see change as creating opportunities will adapt and thrive. Those who don’t risk being left behind.”
“The Horn Program is among the best success stories at Lerner and UD,” added Bruce Weber, dean of the Lerner College of Business & Economics. “We are committed to keep it going, growing and having positive effects on everyone who gets involved, so we are grateful for Paul and Linda’s commitment.”