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HORN Entrepreneurship: Celebrating 10 Years of Building Skills Among Future Innovators

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SkipRope’s co-founder Alexander Pugliese makes his pitch at Hen Hatch 2022 in December. | PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE/MEG MARCOZZI

SkipRope’s co-founder Alexander Pugliese makes his pitch at Hen Hatch 2022 in December. | PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE/MEG MARCOZZI

The way Charlie Horn views it, entrepreneurship is a mindset: “It’s about teambuilding, business principles and marketing.” And those skills apply to both profitmaking enterprises and social ventures.

But can you teach someone those skills? “My answer is anything can be learned,” Horn maintains. He should know: Horn is behind the Horn Entrepreneurship program at the University of Delaware, now celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The program has come a long way in a decade. Horn Entrepreneurship offers a major, three minors, seven undergraduate certificate programs and a graduate certificate. In addition, there is a curriculum for high school students, and the program is developing a workforce development course for groups like teen-focused The Warehouse.

Services also include the Venture Development Center in Newark, and such special programs as Hen Hatch, a competition for startup funding; Summer Founders, which provides students with a stipend to devote the summer to developing their ideas; and WE Hatch for female leaders.

There are more than 30 people on the Horn team, including 12 full-time staff members, nine full-time faculty members, parttime employees, adjuncts and student interns. Most importantly, an increasing number of students are thirsty for information.

“We have found that the desire from students for entrepreneurship education is both infinite and insatiable,” says Horn, who has received the university’s medal of distinction.

An Innovative Initiative

Horn does not lack for entrepreneurial spirit. After graduating from Mount Pleasant High School in north Wilmington, he studied sociology at UD, where he was the golf team captain. The 1975 UD graduate had a successful career in the insurance industry, a sector that requires self-starters, and was a consultant.

Horn and his wife, Patty, moved to Tucson in 1990 after falling in love with the desert landscape and perpetually sunny weather. (No doubt the golf courses were part of the appeal.) In 1994, he launched ScriptSave, the first national retail-based consumer-discount prescription program. In 2013 — the year it was sold — ScriptSave saved consumers more than $1.5 billion in out-of-pocket costs.

In Tucson, Horn discovered the McGuire Entrepreneurship program at the University of Arizona and became an entrepreneur-in-residence. He could see the potential of such a program for his alma mater, and in 2011, he connected with Dan Freeman at the University of Delaware.

Freeman, who’d been with the university since 2000, was director of the Venture Development Center, located in a 1,200-square-foot building, and manager of an undergraduate minor in entrepreneurship studies.

“Fortunately, Dan and I — along with some other alumni donors — were able to convince the university to allocate teaching, staff and space resources to help launch the program in a big way,” Horn recalls.

Scaling Up

Since then, Horn Entrepreneurship has significantly expanded. For instance, the Venture Development Center has new digs on East Delaware Avenue, and there is a dedicated major and minors.

The center, classes and contests attract students interested in everything from fashion to fintech. Maya Nazareth, for instance, spotted a need for women’s mixed martial arts (MMA) clothing.

“I just couldn’t find gear made for women’s bodies,” says Nazareth, who’d been practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu three years before starting Alchemize Fightwear while still at UD. However, the student was out of her depth — she knew nothing about fashion. “I was like, I need a community — there must be other students who are starting a business,” recalls Nazareth, an international business major. “And that’s how I found Horn.”

The budding business owner participated in Summer Founders and won the Hen Hatch competition. Like “Shark Tank,” the event involves pitching an idea to a panel of investors and entrepreneurs in front of a live audience. The $11,000 prize helped boost her business.

But after graduation, she took a job with a Summer Founders mentor’s company. That’s not unusual — it’s challenging for new graduates to generate enough funding for salaries, Freeman explains. However, Nazareth is now full-time with Alchemize Fightwear, which has a staff of five and is on track to bring in $1 million in sales this year.

Like Nazareth, Garry Johnson III didn’t come to UD to study entrepreneurship. Indeed, he majored in exercise science. But he learned about Horn while developing a fitness app for an assignment. “I became one of those students who take advantage of just about every resource and opportunity Horn has to offer,” he says.

He minored in entrepreneurial studies and got a master’s in entrepreneurship and design. He is now a UD adjunct professor and founder and director of First Founders, which offers accelerator programs to help early-stage entrepreneurs launch startups. He is also the managing partner of Bison Venture Partners, which helps companies raise money from their communities and prepare for the next financial phase.

What’s Next?

In the future, Horn Entrepreneurship will continue to create relevant and accessible opportunities for students, Freeman says. Examples include more degree programs, an internal venture fund and a graduate fellowship offering called Innovation Delaware.

The business community can contribute to the program’s growth in multiple ways. “Frankly, we’re always looking for financial contributions,” Horn acknowledges. However, there are opportunities to speak, provide internships, judge competitions and solve problems — students often tackle a project for area companies as part of their learning experience.

Nazareth’s experience demonstrates that students do not always start a business right after graduation. “Horn opens a lot of doors,” she says. “I was offered a high-paying salary and the option to open an office on the West Coast — and that would never have happened if I had not found Horn.”

She ultimately decided to devote her time to her business, but that’s not to say she’s more successful than a Horn student who elects to stay with another company. That’s because Horn, she concludes, teaches you about life.

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