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Entrepreneurship Expo creates buzz at U of M’s FedEx Institute

  • Written by Dorothy Bracy Alston

IMAG0131-600The Entrepreneurship Expo hosted by the University of Memphis' Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation was the place to be for those with an incubating idea.

The session Tuesday at the FedEx Institute of Technology drew 300-plus attendees. Throughout the day there was a steady flow of entrepreneur-minded individuals, including a mix of successful startups, emerging businesses, inventions ready to be patented, and some undeveloped business ideas and concepts. The Entrepreneur Village featured 23 of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation's (CEI) start-up clients.

Project manager Kelly Penwell came to Memphis in 2011 to manage the division. She hit the ground running and has assisted over 200 clients with their start-up efforts. Thirty-two businesses have been launched since CEI's opening in September 2011.

"The CEI," as it is called, offers an eclectic mix of services – skills training, mentoring, networking, legal advice, market research and more.

IMAG0165-600Expo guests enjoyed an assortment of workshop topics, such as "Navigating the Legal World of Starting a Business" by attorney Joey Dudek. Panelists from Wal-Mart, AutoZone and Whole Foods Market were featured in a workshop dubbed "Placing Your Product in a Big Box Store."

The entrepreneur spirit was palpable.

"It's overwhelming to be in an environment and watch everybody's success," said Penwell. "Our success comes from the success of others."

Nearly 100 students from The Peer Power Foundation were on hand to hear the foundation's founder, Dr. Charlie McVean, make his presentation.

"With Dr. McVean's success as a businessman, he's applied the same brilliance used in business to work on social problems and has created an authentic way to change lives in the social world," Penwell said.

McVean, an alum of East High School and Vanderbilt University, shared how his philanthropic work began in 2005 with the Peer Power Foundation, a program designed to help students – particularly African Americans – struggling in reading and math.

Now in 12 schools in Memphis, Northeast Arkansas and Southwest Mississippi, the program uses peer-to-peer tutoring of high school and college students to teach three hours of math with no boredom. At present, 100 tutors are tutoring 1,000 students weekly.

"Competition makes things happen," said McVean, as he relayed lessons he has learned in business. 'It's a principle strategy used in the business world."

(For more information on the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, call 901-678-5266, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or visit their website at www.memphis.edu/cei.)

(Dorothy Bracy Alston is a journalist, author, freelance writer and, adjunct English professor. Visit Dorothy's blog at www.CisbaAssociates.blogspot.com; join her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dorothybracyalston, email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Twitter @DBAlston, or call 901-570-3923.)

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