St. Olaf College | News

Students see entrepreneurship in action at CoCo Minneapolis

St. Olaf students (from left) Adithya Balaji ’16, Patrick McWilliams ’14, and Abdi Musse ’15 talk with a group of entrepreneurs that included Jon Pearce ’01 during a recent visit to CoCo Minneapolis.

Many college seniors are currently busy applying to jobs and programs, but what about students who dream of creating their own company?

The St. Olaf College Piper Center for Vocation and Career recently invited a small group of students interested in entrepreneurship and innovation to visit CoCo Minneapolis, a coworking space that provides small companies with offices and meeting rooms they can use as the base of their operations.

The students, who had each received a Finstad Entrepreneurial Grant or had been selected for the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program, were invited to CoCo as part of the St. Olaf Entrepreneurial Internship Program. The visit to the coworking space enabled them to engage in discussion with, and offer their services to, the small business owners who are currently making use of the facility.

St. Olaf students take advantage of one of the many gathering spaces available for small companies to do business at CoCo Minneapolis, a coworking space located on the historic trading floor of the old Minneapolis Grain Exchange.

They also heard from entrepreneurs who used CoCo to jump start successful companies, including Jon Pearce ’01, the CEO and founder of Zipnosis, a diagnostic site that connects clinicians and patients online.

“Taking even a couple hours to see, nuts and bolts, where and how entrepreneurs live and work, is a vital experience to have,” says Pearce. “It expands young minds, and hopefully instills a realistic expectation for what it takes to be an entrepreneur.”

The Entrepreneurial Internship Program is based on a similar program created by the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management for its MBA students.

“Owners of these companies at CoCo believe our students are as good as those getting their MBAs at the University of Minnesota,” says St. Olaf Associate Director of Entrepreneurship Roberto Zayas. “Needless to say, we are very proud of our students’ skills and achievements.”

Entrepreneurs including (from left) Zipnosis founder Jon Pearce ’01, RetraceHealth founder Thompson Aderinkomi, and Vidscrip founder John Brownlee spoke with St. Olaf students visiting a coworking space in Minneapolis.

The visit to CoCo was an opportunity to connect students to internships that will provide hands-on experience in the world of start-up companies. The trip also gave many of the students an up-close look at the reality of being an entrepreneur.

“It’s easy to envision becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates,” says Patrick McWilliams ’14. “But little thought goes into the enormous sacrifices, dedication, and absolute confidence that everyday entrepreneurs must achieve. The entrepreneurs at CoCo showed me this through real personal stories and examples.”

Abdi Musse ’15 says visiting CoCo made him realize the power and importance of networking.

“Whether you enjoy networking or not, it always helps to find out as much as you can about a sector,” he says. “Learning to have conversations with a wider group of people is a relatively small step, but it will still make a big difference.”

According to Pearce, these small steps are crucial to the success of an innovator.

“It’s not about the idea, but making the choice to start walking, heading toward the change and vision you see,” he says. “I challenge all Oles to think broadly about their own experience and how they might share with the next generation.”