The University of Delaware’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship has a booklet titled “Success Stories.”
Inside, there are pictures and biographical information of the people and the businesses that have been nurtured in the program over its five years in existence empowering UD students to develop the mindset and skill set of an entrepreneur.
Success, though, in the eyes of Horn and its director, Dan Freeman, doesn’t necessarily mean a business needs to go launch and become a viable, profitable and sustainable solution to a problem.
Sure, the Horn Program has over its five years had ventures like Carvertise, LendEDU, Geoswap, BookBandit and others find the solution to a problem and realize early success with financial awards and the hopes of a sustainable and scalable business for years to come.
By any measure, that’s a success.
But Freeman likes to tell the story of John Lowman and JADE Biotech. Lowman got involved with Horn through a senior design project for his biomedical engineering major. His team was working on solving the problem of fentanyl diversion in hospitals. They worked on the solution for nine months and validated there was indeed a problem disposing of the drug.
It turned out the tech was going to take a lot more time and cost a lot more money than originally planned for and the company and idea folded.
Failure? Not quite.
Lowman spun that experience into a job at Mimetas, a privately owned biotechnology company that develops tissue models and products for drug development.
Freeman said Lowman was hired over candidates with accolades like a Harvard master of business administration and even a candidate with a doctorate.
“We don’t expect them to launch,” Freeman said. “We expect them to learn. … Any successful businesses and job creation should be viewed as gravy.”
So, then, broader success can probably be defined in the number of students and the impact. In Horn’s first year, 40 students were involved in the entrepreneurial program and not many more students on campus were impacted. Today, there are more than 200 students involved in the program across about 40 degree programs. Even greater, Horn estimates about 1,500 students are impacted by the program’s footprint on campus.
Freeman’s eclectic background makes him an obvious choice to lead the program. The Michigan native and graduate of Grinnell College has a doctorate in marketing from the University of Arizona. He’s had experience in marketing at the United Way and an animal welfare organization.
He came to UD in 2000 and was hired to teach information technology applications during the dot-com boom. Each year he practically had to throw out the curriculum to adapt to the changing coursework. Eventually, he got involved teaching marketing strategy and has experience teaching graduate coursework in classes titled “Being Persuasive in Business Situations” and “Market Research and Profile Analysis for New Ventures.”
Now, Freeman leads the university’s entrepreneurship-related academic programs – from undergraduate to executive – and oversees the Horn Program and its related components, including the Venture Development Center, the hatchery and incubator on Delaware Avenue.
“When you set out to do something that you’re passionate about, it doesn’t necessarily mean that other people are going to agree and get on board,” Freeman said of his five-plus years running Horn. “The number of people and the sacrifices that other people have made to accomplish the purpose that I set out on as a solo journey five years ago is humbling and gratifying.
“I knew that the opportunity was here. I know education needs to change and needs to be relevant and accessible and have different sorts of opportunities to prepare students for the world today.”
Quite simply, Freeman says the program’s purpose is “to optimize the impact of entrepreneurship education.”
The goal was to turn a traditional teacher-to-student atmosphere into an educational model where the student is the center and nexus for learning and the faculty member is more of a tour guide.
With that, the success is in the compliments. The startup WilmInvest – a trio of students hoping to invest in Wilmington’s future by combating blight – cultivated its idea in the Summer Founders program this past summer and found traction with their idea.
“There’s no experience like this that you can learn in a classroom,” CEO Joel Amin said.
Similarly, BookBandit founder Jim Jannuzzio used Freeman’s guidance and the Horn Program to help students save money on textbooks, all while making a buck himself.
“He’s someone who genuinely cares about the students and wants to see them succeed,” Jannuzio said of Freeman.
Freeman said when recruiting people to the major, the pitch used to consist of 30 minutes of himself talking. Now, he lets his students and alums do the talking for him.
Earlier this year, UD President Dennis Assanis said he was looking forward to broadening Horn’s scope so that there are entry points from all schools and colleges.
Freeman said he doesn’t know what the next five years will hold, but the mission won’t change.
“The world is a place that is full of abundant opportunity and if you don’t see an opportunity that is pre-made that you are interested in, you can make one,” Freeman said of empowering students. “You can change your circumstance. You’re the one that gets to self-determine the future you want to have.”