December 6, 2021

Applying an Entrepreneurial Mindset to a Tough Economic Reality

a university classroom
By: Sarah Williamson


Sometimes the students in Assistant Professor James Myers’ Introduction to Entrepreneurship course balk when he assigns them to interview entrepreneurial thinkers in their lives. “Students say, ‘I’m running out of people to talk to!’” said Myers, an Assistant Professor in the business department at Pasco-Hernando State College in west-central Florida. 

He replies that they haven’t exhausted the supply—they’re just looking in the wrong places. “You have to go outside your immediate social circle,” he tells them. 

Even without knowing the students’ backstories, Myers is invariably correct. His definition of entrepreneurship—the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others—is shaped by his training in ELI’s entrepreneurial mindset education. Therefore, he doesn’t equate entrepreneurship with running a startup business. 

Once his students start to think critically about entrepreneurship, they begin to solve problems about many situations beyond whom to interview next. These life skills apply in any program and industry, regardless of whether students head for the business world.

Addressing Local Realities

Pasco-Hernando State College serves two counties where the low median wage limits many aspects of residents’ lives. For example, in Pasco County, the median income is $50,417; in Hernando County, it’s $46,030, more than $7,000 below the statewide median wage.

That economic reality is at the heart of the college’s mission. These include providing “affordable, accessible, and diverse educational experiences that empower students to achieve academic success, personal enrichment, and socio-economic advancement.”

Myers revamped the Introduction to Entrepreneurship course last year. This began to be part of a more significant push to incorporate an entrepreneurial mindset across PHSC’s student body and workforce. The fall 2021 semester was its first test run. About 30 students attended the course remotely and 40 students in a fully online version. But, like any new endeavor, it had some bumps. Still, Myers said, students’ response has been positive. 

The college is also partnering with ELI to help build its internal capacity for entrepreneurship education and training. Myers, who previously worked with ELI President Rob Herndon at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado, is developing an eight-module in-house training for faculty and staff. Thanks to a $50,000 Florida Department of Education grant, many faculty have attended Entrepreneurial Mindset Certification Training already, and they’re enthusiastic about its application to the courses they teach in everything from IT to paramedicine.

Putting a Personal Face on Socio-Economic Mobility

Myers, a self-described “lifelong entrepreneur,” got his start mowing lawns at age 12, often shares his own experiences with students. He also invites guest speakers to offer other perspectives.

This fall, one of his invitations went out to Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, Sonia Rodriguez Thorn, who has worked at the college for 27 years. She told students about her father’s immigration from Trinidad and Tobago and his lifetime of entrepreneurial endeavors in everything. These included door-to-door sales, driving a cab in New York, and co-owning an African artifacts store. Sometimes his ideas worked; sometimes, they didn’t. But even with only a sixth-grade education, he had absorbed life lessons like persistence, resilience, and action—mirroring what Myers teaches his students using the ELI book “Who Owns the Ice House? Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur.” 

Rodriguez Thorn also shared that when she was 13, her father bought a Lucite business. Then, the family began making clocks, photo frames, bud vases, candle holders, etc. They cut, drilled, buffed, and shaped these items in the garage. Then, she and her mother did cold sales door to door. Then, on weekends, they sold what they made at a flea market. She stated that, at the time, she did not appreciate those life lessons her parents showed her about resilience and persistence. However, those life skills have been innately foundational to the person she is today.

What They are Doing Now

The college currently offers a certificate in entrepreneurship as well as non-credit courses through a corporate college model. Its goal is to broaden these options and reach community members who are not interested in seeking a college education. However, they could still benefit from cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset. 

It’s also building alliances with local school districts, sister colleges, and other institutions. For example, it recently partnered with the Hernando School District and the Hernando County government on a successful application for a $6.1 million grant to construct a technical training complex that will prepare residents for direct entry into local industries. 

“Ice House helps spur the belief that you don’t have to have an Ivy League background or have $700 million,” Rodriguez Thorn said. “You can have $7 and come from anywhere and create whatever it is that you want to create. It confers the mindset that you empower yourself by helping others, and that is such a win.”