Delaware First: A vision realized
October 19, 2022
Charlie Horn, UD alumnus and founder of Horn Entrepreneurship, reflects on 10 years of the program while looking to the future
Editor's note: This article was updated Oct. 19 to include the photo showing Charlie Horn being awarded the University's Medal of Distinction at a recent campus event.
Entrepreneurs change the world.
That is the heart of Charlie Horn’s philosophy on teaching, thinking and approaching solutions to societal challenges.
“I think almost all the things that have made the world great have come from humans’ ideas, concepts and inventions but those innovations are only actualized when an entrepreneur is involved,” said Horn, UD alumnus from the class of 1975. “You can find entrepreneurs in almost any type of organization — nonprofits, government, and, of course, businesses. They have taken great ideas and manifested them into action.”
Horn said he believes he can help make the world a better place by investing in entrepreneurship programs. And he has done and continues to do just that. Ten years ago, he invested in entrepreneurship education at the University of Delaware by founding Horn Entrepreneurship with founding director, Dan Freeman. Today, Horn continues to be directly involved with the direction and vision of the initiative through his philanthropy and dedicated engagement. As Horn Entrepreneurship celebrates its 10th anniversary, he reflects on its success and where the future could take it.
“My personal vision for Horn Entrepreneurship when Dan and I founded this 10 years ago, was to create a unique and broad set of both curricular and co-curricular offerings to support, encourage and accelerate entrepreneurship for students, faculty, researchers and the Delaware business community,” Horn said. “The world changes so fast and you have to be nimble and reactive to avoid the problems and take advantage of the opportunities. I believed we could teach this in a university setting to what I call the ‘creative class of entrepreneurial-minded people,’ helping them gain knowledge, tools and experiences as well as learning the skill sets through practice needed to be successful entrepreneurs.”
Over the past decade, the entrepreneurship initiative has grown and thrived with Horn’s vision and the dedication of Freeman and his staff. Today, students pursuing any degree at UD can take Horn Entrepreneurship classes, participate in startup competitions, earn critical certifications, gain in-depth experience through immersive internships, utilize the Venture Development Center to start their own companies, explore leadership lessons, summer mentorship opportunities and much more.
The comprehensive nature of the programming and its reach across University departments — and even into high schools — is a point of pride for Horn.
“I’m most proud of the great strides we’ve made with classroom curriculum and co-curricular programs that bring people in, even if they’re not majoring or minoring in entrepreneurism,” Horn said. “It has been great to work together to build relationships with University leadership, partners across campus in colleges and other units, creating a national advisory board and establishing high school programs that introduce students to entrepreneurism before they are part of the University community.”
Horn Entrepreneurship ranks among the top programs in the nation. The number of offerings, successful startups launched, funds raised for new ventures and the caliber of unique resources all contribute to its standings. But Horn said the real results and success are the impact on the participants and the effect they’ve had on their lives and careers.
“Our results are reflected in outstanding feedback from our graduates and the thousands of students who have benefited directly and indirectly from our programs; the palpable impact on the community and the thousands of schools and students engaged in our renowned high school programs,” Horn said. “The positive impact on the lives of the participants has been incredible.”
Horn said he hopes students can develop creative thinking and out-of-the-box problem-solving skills. The expanded way of thinking through Horn Entrepreneurship sets the next generation of innovators up for success — whether as business owners or highly desirable employees.
“If you give Horn students a problem, within five minutes you’ll have eight different solutions. They might not all be great or feasible, but it gets them thinking and loving the idea of working in groups,” Horn said. “Entrepreneurship education is about problem-solving and game playing to learn — giving students projects to accomplish that empower them to find creative solutions. Our work is to create the conditions for creative solution development and delivery, giving them the tools, resources, mentors and teams to do it, but they need to figure it out for themselves.”
As Horn looks ahead to the next 10 years and beyond of Horn Entrepreneurship at UD, he maintains that the core vision is the same for the future.
“We’re not trying to see how many 22-year-olds can leave UD having started their own business,” Horn said. “It's about helping them develop and practice skill sets needed to be successful entrepreneurs, and intrapreneurs, gaining knowledge, tools and experiences to move on to become successful in their lives. We want to see every student leave the University really well prepared to work effectively in any environment. Horn graduates are highly desired by employers because they’re bright, problem-solvers who have learned to work well solo or in teams.”
While Horn said he counts many milestones, programs and obstacles overcome as successes, he knows the programming can have a greater impact on the students, University and the world beyond.
“We mapped the entrepreneurial ecosystem at UD and there are more than 30 touchpoints or places for entrepreneurial activity, like science labs, maker spaces, clubs, STAR campus, etc.,” Horn said. “When I think of the future of Horn Entrepreneurship at the University, my hope is that we will have an organized ecosystem where Horn is the central figure in the support and delivery of entrepreneurial content and activity and ultimately, success.”
To learn more about Horn Entrepreneurship at UD, read more here. If you would like to support the programming and resources for students, you can make a gift here.
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