A North Carolina High School that Spins Out Entrepreneurs

Opinion

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the ThinkPad brand, the first-ever notebook computers. After graduate school at MIT and work overseas with venture capital firms, Ryden came home to North Carolina and founded PrecisionLender, a Charlotte, NC-based software services company that provides pricing and profitability management software to banks. The company has doubled in size every year since its founding in 2009. It currently serves nearly 200 banks and will price almost $200 billion in commercial loans this year through its software.

In recent years, NCSSM has created more formalized courses and competitions to encourage young entrepreneurs. Alumni and board members such as Ryden have pitched in. Randy Myer, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, joined the board of directors of the NCSSM Foundation and taught the Introduction to Entrepreneurship course as a pilot seminar in 2007. Its success led to a full two-trimester course which has grown in popularity, with an enrollment of up to 30 students and a number of local entrepreneurs volunteering to teach. Most recently, Scott Maitland, a Chapel Hill restaurant and distillery founder, has led the course.

In 2011, Ryden created a second course, Applications in Entrepreneurship, taught alongside chemistry instructor Myra Halpin. The one-trimester course supports selected students who already have an idea for a product or service as they work to bring their idea to market. Five students, for example, refined their plans for FreshSpire, an app that helps solve food waste problems, in the applications class. The young women, now university undergraduates, are bringing their app to market soon thanks to funding from the Clinton Global Initiative and The Big Idea Project.

The innovation continues with recent graduates and current NCSSM students. As a senior last year, Senita Portlock was named a national BioGENEius winner out of 28 finalists. Now at Duke University, she holds a psychiatry lab assistant position, a role normally reserved for upperclassmen. Her classmate, Jenny Wang, was inspired to research better brain imagery analysis after a near crash. Before her senior year at NCSSM, Wang was selected to an exclusive program for high school students that allowed her to conduct research at Harvard Medical School. She is now a Harvard freshman.

Just as Ryden returned to NCSSM to support the school that gave him his entrepreneurial start, other alumni have also given back. Jud Bowman and Taylor Brockman, class of 1999, started the mobile content company that became Motricity while they were still at NCSSM. Both have become serial entrepreneurs, and Bowman’s honors include a listing at one of MIT Technology Review’s “Top 100 Young Innovators.” In 2010, they created a $100,000 endowment to support students in research, entrepreneurship, and academic competition. The Bowman-Brockman Endowment supports students that could follow in the entrepreneurial footsteps of the endowment’s namesakes. Adam Bowker, now a senior, won a Bowman-Brockman grant last year, which he used to build a sophisticated quadcopter drone from scratch. Bowker’s plans include aerial photography for real estate, sporting events, and agriculture.

Surely, NCSSM’s founders are proud, seeing all that has sprouted from their seed of a vision four decades ago. I know I am, and I expect even greater things in the future from NCSSM.

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Seasoned entrepreneur and biotech executive, Christy Shaffer, Ph.D. has over 20 years of experience in the life science industry. She is the Managing Director of Hatteras Discovery and Venture Partner at Hatteras Venture Partners. Follow @

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