Mark Simon, PhD, became director of the Hagerman Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation this fall. The University of Michigan-Flint School of Management center was created in 2015 thanks to a generous donation from Phil and Jocelyn Hagerman. Simon was recognized in his new role October 10 at an investiture ceremony. At the event, Simon said, “I can’t overstate how honored I feel. I am truly humbled. But I know that with all the wonderful support I am receiving from so many, including the Hagerman’s, administration, faculty, staff, and students, I believe that together we can truly make a difference.”
Prior to Simon’s official investiture, he shared his thoughts about the center, its benefit for students, his impressions of the university community, and more in this Q&A with University Relations.
What attracted you to this position and to the university? What would you like the university community to know about you?
There are so many things that attracted me. First and foremost, though, I was looking for an environment where I could make a difference. While Flint has many points of pride, like most cities it faces challenges. But every challenge presents opportunities. I know that is a cliché, but statements become cliché because they contain elements of truth. Given the commitment of so many stakeholders, ranging from the Hagermans to UM-Flint students, faculty and administration, I believe the statement really applies and hopefully I can play a part in making it a reality.
I guess I would like the university community to know one of my major sources of motivation. Several years back I had a serious medical condition and surgery saved my life. That really caused me to adjust some of my priorities. It is, for example, one of the reasons why I so want to make a difference in the community and in my students’ lives. But it is also a reason why I want to have fun while doing so.
What are the principles that you want the Center to follow? How is the plan for the center being developed?
There are several principles that I deeply believe in that I want the Center to embody. First, I want it to serve the community by spurring entrepreneurship. Second, I want it to be a platform to help motivated students accomplish incredible things. I think they can be a driving force that help implement Center projects. Eventually I want to find ways of merging academic credit, internships, and Center projects to help the students juggle their many responsibilities. Third, while the Hagerman Center will develop and/or manage a variety of projects, I want it to become known for one area of excellence. Finally, I know all of this will only be possible by forming tight mutually beneficial partnerships with individuals and organizations. I know I can’t do it alone!
Of course listing those principles is far easier than incorporating them into a coherent whole. One of the first steps I am taking to do this is talking to stakeholders, including students, community members, and faculty. I want to get a better feel for my surroundings and find out what others are passionate about. I’m keeping an open mind as I learn more.
How beneficial is it for students interested in entrepreneurial fields to add to their knowledge base by learning directly from those in their field, and working with professionals?
Learning from and working directly with entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial professionals is extremely beneficial. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is both an art and a science. In the classroom, I largely focus on the science, that is, imparting knowledge that will increase a student’s chance of success. But then there is the art, for example, gaining a deep understanding of how much work entrepreneurship requires and how much persistence it takes to succeed. The students also need to learn about the delicate balance entrepreneurs need to keep between believing in one’s self and remaining flexible. I want my students to understand what it feels like to be an entrepreneur, so they can make an informed decision about whether it is the right career for them. Finally, it allows students to build their professional network, which, while important in every discipline, is especially critical in entrepreneurship. Often entrepreneurs start with nothing except for their contacts. In my opinion, the best learning experience involves learning cutting-edge lessons in class, but then seeing them applied in the real world, or better yet, working with an actual entrepreneur to apply the lessons.
What are your early impressions of the UM-Flint community?
I have been blown away! I can’t get over how many things are going on, including new academic programs, career workshops, consulting services, and social activities. I have also been incredibly impressed by the students. They have such a wealth of experience and are juggling so much. So many of them want to truly learn rather than just get through the program. My experience with the faculty and staff here has also been great. Everyone has been so nice and helpful. I keep telling them that since I have already accepted the job offer and started the job, they can show what they are really like. But they keep on treating me great and making me feel so welcome! UM-Flint has a friendly, positive, and proactive culture, something that is hard to find.
Bottom line, I can’t imagine a better place to try to build an outstanding entrepreneurship program and am extremely grateful for the opportunity.