College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences

CAFLS initiative helps students ‘connect the dots’ to starting a business


Hurley named new CAFLS Director of Entrepreneurship

After starting his first company while living in a Johnstone Hall dormitory as a junior at Clemson University, Edward Giard spent more than 25 years as a consumer products executive before retiring to focus on giving back through mentorship and volunteering.

Now, Giard is part of a unified approach by the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CAFLS) to helping students navigate the roadmap to starting their own businesses, too.

“Any opportunity that I have to lean into the kids and help promote entrepreneurship within Clemson is what excites me,” he said.

Giard was among five industry professionals who recently judged this year’s Cultivate.CAFLS competition, which encourages students to develop ideas, explore innovative solutions and compete for prizes to help bring their business plan to life.

Teams were given $500 in seed money to develop their ideas, and on March 14 inside the Watt Family Innovation Center, students Mark Burns, Abigail Gibson and Weston Whitfield captured the $2,000 top prize for their project, Blooms & Buds, which focuses on delivering locally grown flowers in sustainable packaging.

While the showdown event marked a successful end to the competition’s fifth year, CAFLS is already planning to take its entrepreneurial initiatives to the next level — by connecting the dots and strengthening the connections between students, faculty, alumni and industry.

Associate Professor of Food, Nutrition and Packaging Science Andrew Hurley, who has founded his own companies and created more than 100 jobs in South Carolina, has been named CAFLS Director of Entrepreneurship and tasked with building on the strong foundation the Cultivate program has in place.

“I have charged Dr. Hurley to provide entrepreneurial opportunities for faculty and students across every major in the college and to expand Cultivate from an annual competition to a more expansive program that helps students, faculty and businesses connect,” CAFLS Dean Keith Belli said.

Associate Professor of Food, Nutrition and Packaging Science Andrew Hurley speaks during the Cultivate.CAFLS Showdown competition on March 14, 2022, in the Watt Family Innovation Center. Hurley has been named CAFLS Director of Entrepreneurship and tasked with building on the strong foundation the Cultivate program has in place.

The Cultivate.CAFLS competition allows students to work on their passions to create a company and move the idea forward to a funding stream for launching the company while they complete their academic studies. But Hurley views it as only the start of what is possible.

“I see my role as leveling that up a bit and creating a structure where we have basically angel investors who are interested in concept-phase companies where there are formative groups of students who obviously have a passion in creating something and, ideally, can align with a business leader, an executive, an owner of a company that has their own passion. … The goal is to collect these people across CAFLS and bring them together into a unified approach where they are providing seed funding to faculty mentors who are pushing students to push their boundaries and take advantage of all the puzzle pieces that are available here at Clemson and take their idea and really bring it to life,” Hurley said.

While the Cultivate.CAFLS competition has existed in its own “ecosystem,” Hurley said the goal is now to provide a pathway to Cultivate and change the paradigm to encourage students to begin thinking about the possibilities early in their time on campus.

“Cultivate is awesome,” Hurley said. “The goal is now: How can we start grooming students to begin preparing with Cultivate as a capstone of deploying their ideas and moving on to the next stage at Clemson?”

And reaching that next stage means connecting students with not only mentors with successful track records such as Giard, but also providing faculty mentors and seeking out angel investors to help get their entrepreneurial concepts started.

“Clemson has every single thing you need to have an idea and turn it into a business — from incubators and accelerators to partnering with MBA people who have as part of their curriculum to create something and bring it to market,” Hurley said. “I see this as an opportunity to help students connect all the dots on campus. … The idea is to create a pathway for students who would like to pursue that as an opportunity.”

For the students who want to create such a pathway, the Cultivate program offers connections to alumni who have been down the same road.

Allison Butterbaugh, Clemson alumna and co-owner of Keowee Brewing Company in Seneca, S.C., spent 13 years in the dairy industry in research and development and quality control before making the move to own and operate the brewery along with her husband. She was among the judges for March’s Cultivate.CAFLS showdown.

“I’ve shifted focus and now I’m an entrepreneur as well as doing R&D and quality and anything else that comes along with owning your own business,” Butterbaugh said. “So, I’ve learned a lot and I’m really excited to share this knowledge, not only what I’ve done in the corporate world but also what I’ve had to learn — essentially own your own — being a small-business owner. Hopefully, I can ask questions and help you guys understand what it’s like to be out there, kind of on your own and making your dreams come true.”

Another judge, Kelly Jones, spent 31 years leading research-and-development functions across multiple food categories in multiple regions around the world. He vouched for results of the entrepreneurship initiatives within CAFLS in terms of preparing students.

“I love this program. I started my career from my graduation here at Clemson many years ago and have had the opportunity to hire a number of students from this program — and I can tell you without a doubt that they’re head and shoulders above the rest of the kids that come in,” Jones said. “I’m very proud of the history with the program and the incredible students that come with it.”

But connecting students with mentors and investors is just part of the equation. The Cultivate program also allows students to work with faculty mentors who help teams to pursue an entrepreneurial passion.

CAFLS is now offering the opportunity for faculty members to become Senior Entrepreneurial Fellows. Whether a class project or independent effort, CAFLS provides seed funding to advance ideas to startups and open a pathway to incredible resources — with funds for seven faculty mentors for the August 2022 cohort.

Kirby Player, lecturer in Clemson’s Agricultural Sciences Department, has coached teams in four Cultivate.CAFLS competitions and said it offers students opportunities “that you just cannot get in a classroom.”

“I watch older students that are engaging in mentoring younger students in a very informal fashion, and they’re all working toward a common goal,” Player said. “Also, it stirs my creativity and the students’ creativity to participate in cultivate. Dr. Jean Bertrand initially brought the Cultivate idea to the college as part of the CAFLS Advantage, and I believe it is truly one of the programs we have in CAFLS that does give our students an advantage when they go to serve in the real world.”

As CAFLS seeks to take its entrepreneurial initiatives to the next level, Belli said it was important to also give credit for the foundation it has already provided.

“A special thank you to Dr. Johnny McGregor who has served as the CAFLS Ambassador for Entrepreneurship for the past three years,” Belli said. “Dr. McGregor has helped many students with innovative ideas build them into tangible services or businesses. His dedication has helped create an entrepreneurship culture that is uniquely CAFLS. Dr. McGregor has decided to return to his faculty position full-time and I want to thank him for his leadership and the tremendous effort he has given to build Cultivate into the program it is today.”

Do you have a business idea for students or interest in investing in conceptual-stage startups at Clemson? Let us know here.

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