Members of the E-Club during a trek to Raleigh, N.C., in November 2019. Image courtesy of Hannah Stephenson.
Members of the E-Club during a trek to Raleigh, N.C., in November 2019. Image courtesy of Hannah Stephenson.

The spring semester offered many challenges for student organizations. It had been a year since Virginia Tech moved the majority of its classes to a virtual format, requiring that clubs follow suit as a means to protect their members. Much like the rest of the world, club leadership teams and members struggled to adjust to the new reality. There was no manual for how to provide programming to students in an online format, no policy or prior documentation to refer to. 

One of the organizations forced to make adjustments was Entrepreneurship Club at Virginia Tech. Amid the pandemic, the club provided over 30 engaging events to their members while keeping them safe by following COVID-19 guidelines. One of those events was a virtual trek to Spain.

In previous years, the club has arranged in-person treks for members, visiting Atlanta, Ga., Washington, D.C., Raleigh, N.C., and many other cities with distinct entrepreneurship ecosystems. This year, the online format allowed the club to not only interact with entrepreneurs based in Spain, but also offer the trek free of charge to attendees. 

On April 22, the club welcomed over 50 students throughout the day via Zoom, hearing from over ten companies located in Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia. Attendees were able to immerse themselves in the culture of the country, engaging with a wide range of businesses in a variety of industries. Attendees were also able to take part in a cook-a-long in which chefs from Sea Saffron, an award-winning tourist destination, showed viewers how to make traditional Spanish tapas. 

The event produced cross-cultural connections and allowed entrepreneurial students to discover the culture of Spain. Guests included executives from Appian, including Vice President Victor Allyon and Director Gloria Navas. Appian is a low-code automation platform and sponsor of Entrepreneurship Club at Virginia Tech. Allyon and Navas presented the value of entrepreneurship within the corporate landscape. 

Chris Clinton, vice president of global strategic partners at Appian and a proud supporter of Virginia Tech and the Pamplin College of Business, was asked about the company’s commitment to Virginia Tech Entrepreneurship. “Being able to cultivate and unify entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology during the university experience puts Virginia Tech on the leading edge in developing the next leaders across global multinational corporations, all the way down through the most successful new start-ups.”

He continued, “In partnering with Virginia Tech, Appian is providing the knowledge and intelligence of low-code automation in enabling this next generation of entrepreneurs to deliver their big ideas even faster. It does not matter if one becomes an entrepreneur within an existing company or they become the next leader of a rapidly growing start-up, these individuals will understand that success will be dependent on combining people and technology, with data and systems, to maximize companies’ resources and improve business results.”

The excitement about the success of the Entrepreneurship Club during a particularly difficult year for student organizations did not end there. David Bluey, professor in the Pamplin College of Business and club advisor, added, “I could not be prouder of this amazing student organization and their achievements to date. The Spain trek that was held in April is just one of many innovative and comprehensive projects that the club has organized and implemented over the challenging time and circumstances related to the COVID 19 pandemic.”

He continued, “The interaction with entrepreneurial professors and leaders from various start-ups in various regions of Spain set the standard for creativity and organizational acumen moving forward.” 

Department Head and R. B. Pamplin Professor of Management Devi Gnyawali offered his thoughts on the success of the Entrepreneurship Club and its recent virtual trek to Spain, “The Department of Management is the academic home of the Entrepreneurship Club, which provides amazing opportunities for students to explore and pursue innovative and impactful ideas. The Spain trek was one of the many innovative ideas pursued by the E-Club. I am amazed by the active participation of diverse companies and universities from Spain. The virtual trek was a wonderful way to ‘travel’ and ‘visit’ several companies in Spain during the pandemic.”

Outside of the virtual trek, the Entrepreneurship Club has recently re-opened its co-working space, The Clubhouse, located at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. Acquired in 2019, this space provides student entrepreneurs with an environment to form organic connections and build meaningful projects. 

One of the first teams to be welcomed back into the Clubhouse as first-time members were The Diggeridoos, a team born out of Hyperloop VT, an organization that seeks to solve some of the world’s most challenging transportation problems. The Diggeridoos are “a team of Virginia Tech students chosen as 1 of 12 internationally selected teams out of over 390 applicants to compete at this year’s Not-a-Boring Competition hosted by The Boring Company. The Boring Company is a company founded by Elon Musk with the long-term goal of solving the problem of traffic by building three-dimensional transportation infrastructure.” 

The club is also excited to continue to welcome student teams from across the university into its co-working space as a means to promote innovation and entrepreneurship within the Virginia Tech community. Bluey has his sights set on the fall, stating “I am also looking forward to the fall semester’s open house activities for the E-Club’s innovation clubhouse at the Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg. 

“The clubhouse has been furnished with over $20,000 of technological equipment and furnishings as a result of generous donations from Appian and BluePrism. The Virginia Tech Foundation has generously donated rent for over 1,100 square feet of office space for the E-Club’s collaborative activities with various community partners.” 

This August, the Entrepreneurship Club will be participating in Game Changer Week, scheduled to take place August 23-27. Game Changer Week will bring together a wide variety of individual and organization industry disruptors both virtually and in person. The goal of the event is to form a region that supports and grows with the dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem whilst connecting the community with the resources needed to grow and thrive.

The Entrepreneurship Club at Virginia Tech will also be hosting a start-up showcase on Friday, August 27, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. featuring several of its student teams within its newly opened office space.

While this past year has been incredibly difficult for many organizations university-wide, there is hope on the horizon with an in-person fall semester. The entrepreneurial ecosystem at Virginia tech is growing and has proven to be exceptionally resilient in the face of a global pandemic.

-          Written by Hannah Stephenson