Wendy Bolger was the inaugural director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Loyola University Maryland. Bolger brought 20 years of experience in management and social innovation when she accepted the position in 2018, after directing innovation strategy for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.
At the nonprofit, she founded and grew the organization’s first innovation team, developed a vision and rigorous process, attracted advisers and partners and led successful pilot programs.
Previously, she founded a nonprofit management consulting firm, where she provided expertise, coaching and training to organizational leaders.
Additional entrepreneurial and organizational experience includes positions with Mercy Corps, Intel and Save the Children. Bolger holds an MBA from the University of Virginia’s (UVA) Darden Graduate School of Business and a Bachelor of Arts from Smith College.
What kind of buzz are you hearing on the entrepreneurial front?
A pretty good one. There’s a realization that we need entrepreneurs now, more than ever, and Black Lives Matter and Social Justice are the buzziest things happening anywhere. As far as industries go, pharma, biotech, and anything touching medical and Personal Protective Equipment companies are hot. The Baltimore area has many startups in that space. The other strong area is in-home solutions, such as exercise and entertainment solutions, that could last well into the pandemic and economic recovery.
How has your program progressed at Loyola?
We’ve grown since our launch. Last year, our minor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship started with just a couple of students. A year later, we had 20 enrollees and now we’re at 40. It’s already one of the biggest interdisciplinary minors at the university. We’ve also launched new community programming, including the Baltipreneurs Accelerator and Loyola Crisis Navigators. They make my job of connecting with the entrepreneurial community easier.
What kind of resources does Loyola offer its students?
Academic and leadership opportunities. We aim to help them develop an innovative mindset, which becomes a resource they can draw on the rest of their lives.
Do you think the state assists entrepreneurs?
I do, due to the presence of the Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO). It’s the largest and most active agency in the state for entrepreneurs. Also, the state Department of Commerce did offer some COVID-19 grants, but they ran out really early. The state should increase its investments because what underserved entrepreneurs still need is access to capital and technical assistance.
Given the nation’s economic problems, can entrepreneurs still get up and running?
First, an entrepreneur’s path is not reasonable, by its nature. It’s probably true that an entrepreneur will need deeper pockets today than usual, but I would say that there is an upside to this disruptive time because it’s a good time for experimentation. One of the main things we teach is that innovation thrives on constraints – and we are experiencing nothing but constraints at the moment.
What’s happening during the pandemic that will reshape how entrepreneurs operate?
Everyone has had to pivot. If your model had any weaknesses, they have been revealed. Everyone has to think differently, but especially industries such as travel, hospitality and other services that were doing great before COVID-19 but have been hit the hardest. Also, I think companies that are thinking about racial equality and how they can reshape their businesses will find that it pays off.
Are we ready for another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans?
Yes. The economy needs it and small businesses do, too. Research has shown that the large loans went to white borrowers and that up to 90 percent of black business owners weren’t funded. But the good news is that the message that Black Lives Matter is coming across. This is a moment of reckoning.
Have businesses done enough to help customers during the pandemic?
It’s really smart strategy to offer assistance instead of trying to sell your customers at a time like this. Just take care of them. That will pay off, but we also know that at present that’s harder on companies that are struggling.
Have you noticed many businesses doing better than expected than you thought they would?
Not a surprise, but the high-end luxury market. There are still many people with money, and they are still able to pay for high-end vacations, extra tutors for their kids, etc. They are kind of shoring up their safety and buying services that insulate themselves. For the rest of us, I see casual items like pajamas and sweatpants, since people work from home as well as home improvement items. Also, obviously PPE and masks and grocery stores.
And there are restaurants that have pivoted while becoming really creative with cost reduction. They have done well tapping into customers’ demand for a restaurant meal. Eating out is a treat that we still want.
Is it harder to start a business in Maryland than in Virginia or Delaware?
I can’t really say, but I do think a really great idea transcends any local constraints. As for entrepreneurship programs, UVA has the Darden School and University of Delaware has a robust entrepreneurship program. In state, there’s the Smith School of Business at University of Maryland and The Johns Hopkins University runs the Carey School. All told, there are a great deal of higher education opportunities for entrepreneurs in the mid-Atlantic, with Loyola University Maryland the newest player.
What’s the toughest hurdle for an entrepreneur today?
That it’s hard out there and you have to be ready to fail. If you can overcome that, next you run into challenges of scaling and hiring. And finally, funding – though there are more options than there used to be. Clearing the funding hurdle can be the thing that makes or breaks a new business.
How do most entrepreneurs get the money to start a business?
They bootstrap, meaning self-funding, friends and family (which can be dangerous to relationships), and/or credit cards. Most entrepreneurs start a new business as a side gig, however, so they keep their day job while they grow.
What do entrepreneurs have going for them now?
In a time when there doesn’t seem to be any security anywhere, being your own boss can seem like the most secure option available. I think one thing the pandemic has revealed is that a corporate job might not be as secure as people might have thought it was.
What’s on the horizon?
Next year, we’re partnering with the University of Baltimore to host the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers Annual Conference, which is a membership organization of entrepreneurial centers from all over the world. The first meeting was held at the University of Maryland College Park 20 years ago and it’s grown to the point that we expect about 500 people to attend the event, which will be held at Loyola’s Evergreen campus in the north part of Baltimore City.
By Mark R. Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | September 2020 Issue