Charlie Horn has a pretty simple vision for the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship at the University of Delaware: Create a new model of entrepreneurial education and make the skills of problem-solving viable in the marketplace.
That may be an over-simplification, but Horn says that the program is not about venture creation – although that’s part of it – but it’s about “learning to be more entrepreneurial at a time when the need is greater than ever due to the speed of change in technology and in the workforce. Those changes have created both tremendous problems and tremendous opportunities.”
His approach – through the UD program that he created in 2012 and through his own entrepreneurial success (including multiple Inc. 500 company designations) – earned him the 2019 Pete du Pont Freedom Award in front a packed house at the Hotel Du Pont on Sept. 18.
“I never seek recognition for anything I do,” said the founder and chairman of 5Lights LLC, which he describes as an “entrepreneurial investment and management” firm that partners with and grows transformational companies. “The team does the work; I just get to be a catalyst.”
But the record crowd gathered for the awards presentation clearly felt Horn deserved the recognition.
“Charlie Horn’s innovative leadership in Delaware and beyond epitomizes the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation’s mission,” said Foundation Chair Scott Malfitano of CSC. “Charlie responds to societal challenges by building coalitions and empowering individuals to innovate create solutions, which mirrors many of Gov. du Pont’s priorities during his years in public office.”
Horn says businesses are “desperately seeking people with problem-solving skill sets,” adding that those traits are important even for people seeking the stability of a corporate environment.
“We want students focusing on ideation, innovation, and finding multiple solutions. Those that turn out to be viable become value propositions” and those apply whether you create your own venture or support the growth efforts of a larger company, he said.
Asked whether the successes of the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship have exceeded his expectations, Horn laughed and said he always has “super-high expectations. But when we started, we had a couple of [entrepreneur] courses and professors in the Lerner business school. The classes we were creating were not really business courses – they weren’t finance or accounting or marketing – they were a whole lot more.”
Horn said most students are ready for college programs that grade based on individual performance and productivity.
“But when they arrive at their first job, they’re told, ‘welcome to the team,’ ” he said. “In most places, they’re not taught how to [work effectively as a member of a team] and they’re not graded on it. We need to teach young people – many of whom are very focused on social problems and social ventures – that
they have no limits and can invent the future they want.”
Started in 2003, the Pete du Pont Freedom Award recognizes individuals who have championed successful ideas that have led to economic growth or brought innovation to the private sector. Past winners include George Will, Newt Gingrich, Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, Ellen Kullman, Mike Castle, Mehmet Oz, and Carol Ammon.
The event was sponsored by Rockefeller Capital Management, Nemours Children’s Health System, Elise & Pete du Pont, the University of Delaware and several other businesses and individuals.
Second Chances Farm, a social enterprise that trains and mentors returning citizens through vertical farming and will soon open its first facility in Wilmington’s Riverside neighborhood, received the 2018 Reinventing Delaware ideation award.