Staff Spotlight: Laura Johnson

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I’m here with Laura Johnson, the Director of Entrepreneurship Degree Programs. Laura joined us just last semester in September. So let’s see how she’s doing.

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I’m here with Laura Johnson, the Director of Entrepreneurship Degree Programs. Laura joined us just last semester in September. So let’s see how she’s doing.

CEI: Hi Laura, Thanks for taking time to chat with me.

LAURA: Sure! Glad to do it.

CEI: So tell us your path to this directorship.

LAURA: I came to UF for undergrad, and after quite a few degree changes I graduated with a degree in event management.  After an internship in non-prifit event management, I realized that I liked the entrepreneurial aspects of it –the ambiguity, the creativity, the value creation, but that was about it. From there I went to work for the Chamber of Commerce in Gainesville in a sales position, which was great experience.  Everyone should have a sales job at some point.  My next job was at RTI Biologics in event management; I got to attend lots of trade shows and work with some great people.  RTI is a spin-off of UF, by the way.  About 5 years ago I did the MSE program when it was offered on the weekend. I loved it and got so much out it. It completely changed the way my brain works. I said to my husband about the person in my position now, “I would love to do that job!” So when it opened up, I applied, and now here I am! I like that we have the start-up feel in CEI even though we are part of a massive university.

CEI: What are some of differences in the program from when you completed it, to today and to where it’s going?

LAURA: I can’t really judge the traditional program, because I did the professional weekend program. …Now it’s been more tailored to start-up mentality, not just a business degree. So we have courses centered on entrepreneurship, like guerrilla marketing. Our experiential learning element has grown exponentially. The opportunities students have now on campus and in the start-up community is drastically different, there is a great scene for our students to take advantage of. The addition of Dr. Morris to the CEI is taking the center leaps and bounds beyond how awesome it already was into a world-class center.

CEI: What do you look for in students who participate in entrepreneurship programs?

LAURA: When students come into the office, from every different background, they all have a passionate streak in common. While they might not have a business in mind, they know they want something different than a traditional degree program.  We teach an entrepreneurial mindset and help students channel that energy. Anyone can be the right fit, we want people who work well in groups and can bring new ideas to the table. So if a team has a marketing major, a fine arts major, and a finance major, they could put together an incredible plan. It seems like most of the people interested in the program have entrepreneurs as parents or family members. That’s not a requirement but an interesting observation.

CEI: Do you think because of early exposure to the entrepreneurial mindset, it is hard for students to go into corporate?

LAURA: Yeah, I think when students see their parents go to work and they are the bosses or they run a company, you see the path as something different. You can define it yourself; you don’t need to fight your way up a ladder to get to the top.

CEI: Why are you drawn to entrepreneurship?

LAURA: I think I’m drawn to entrepreneurship because I naturally think differently. I like to solve problems and look at things from different angles. I like seeing the final product and figuring out how to work backwards to get there. That’s what entrepreneurship is all about – having a big goal and working towards that. Also, I think I have an authority problem. I have had jobs where I’ve had managers that I think I could do a better job than them and it made me crazy that I didn’t have the experience that corporate culture requires to move ahead.

CEI: So let’s say you were marooned on a deserted island and could only bring three things with you to survive. What would you bring?

LAURA:  A knife, a big one! I want a really big hat. That can also be used to collect water. It’s a really big hat. And some really sturdy twine to make nets. But how do I start a fire?  I rescind my hat answer and choose a Zippo lighter. Because yes it can start a fire, but it’s shiny so I can signal a plane. I’ll just make a hat out of palm fronds.

CEI: That’s a very entrepreneurial answer. You used resource leveraging, bootstrapping clearly, and opportunity assessment. Are these the kinds of things you all teach about in the entrepreneurship programs?

LAURA: Absolutely! So not only could you learn to start a business, but also how to survive on a deserted island! I’m telling you, it teaches you how to think differently.

CEI: That’s great, thanks so much for your time. How can someone contact you to learn about CEI programs?

LAURA: Email me at Laura.Johnson@warrington.ufl.edu to set up a time to tour the CEI and see if any of our programs are right for you. If you’re not in Gainesville we can Skype at UF_CEI.

CEI:  Thanks so much!

LAURA: Thanks, Jeff.