Cultivating Innovation, Accelerating Entrepreneurship

As published in MN Business Valley Journal

February 05, 2018 |

The College of Business already offers a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation. Meanwhile, the goal of giving students real-world experience in their own business startups recently took a major step.

That step was made in June with the opening of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a 4,000-square foot expanse of well-equipped space in the Hubbard Building along North Riverfront Drive in Mankato. The off-campus location in the city’s heavily trafficked Old Town area is space donated for three years by the building’s owner, developer Curt Fisher. Fisher said he was eager to foster more entrepreneurial activity and, as a result, more business occupants.

“We thank the Fishers for making this move possible,” said Richard Davenport, president of Minnesota State Mankato, in a 2017 University news release. “We’ve had conversations with local business leaders for many years about such a move, but there was even more interest in making this happen after the Greater Mankato Growth ‘Inter-City Leadership Visit’ to Columbia, Missouri, just over a year ago.”

A Mankato delegation comprised of 80 leaders from business, government and nonprofit sectors traveled to Columbia, Mo., home of the University of Missouri, in November 2015, to examine that community’s initiatives, goals and successes as a way to help generate new ideas for Mankato. Davenport said the University’s presence downtown would provide students “real-world experiences and project-based learning conducted in partnership with business, while also creating opportunities for internships and research.”

The location also fits well with the center’s aim to give students an energetic and encouraging space to learn and grow as business people. It’s set up so that students who are pursuing their own business ideas are doing so not only alongside other students, and thereby creating a camaraderie and energy, but with others in the Mankato area who have the expertise, experience and connections. Beginning with the director, Yvonne Cariveau.

An ideal director for such a place would have the background of an academic – a Ph.D., say – as well as solid experience as a business owner. The icing on the cake would be a familiarity with Minnesota State Mankato and, in a perfect world, teaching experience in entrepreneurship.

Cariveau’s bachelor’s degree is from Minnesota State Mankato. She received her Ph.D. in marketing from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson Business School. In the 1990s she started Internet Connections, one of Mankato’s first internet service providers, and later formed the development and design firm VoyageurWeb. Cariveau recently sold a majority of that business and joined the college as the director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She continues to teach the college’s capstone class in entrepreneurship.


College of Business Dean Brenda Flannery said it’s rewarding to watch this latest achievement in entrepreneurship at the college.


“For me this is really personal,” Flannery said. “When I was hired here 20 years ago, I was hired to teach the entrepreneurship course. We had one course.”


Shortly afterward, Flannery—inspired by travels as a visiting faculty member—initiated the idea of an entrepreneurship fair on campus, one in which students put together a business plan and pitched it to the pros. When Flannery went on sabbatical, Shane Bowyer kept entrepreneurship activities afloat, and when Flannery returned and became dean of the college, she used that capital to do more – creating a minor, facilitating the creation of the United Prairie Bank Integrated Business Experience (in which students start and run a business) and fundraising to launch the CIE, including funding the director position, graduate assistant position, entrepreneurship scholarships and the Integrated Business Experience program.


“So, there is a history here and it’s been a journey. Now we feel we’ve taken off” Flannery said.

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