Global Entrepreneurship Exchange Reaches 1,000 Students – and Counting

A GE2 student high fives faculty member Michael Ciuchta Image by Ed Brennen
Asst. Prof. of Management Michael Ciuchta high-fives May Thin Khine, a GE2 student visiting from Myanmar, during the program's certificate ceremony at University Crossing.

By Ed Brennen

It began modestly enough, with Manning School of Business Assoc. Teaching Prof. Ashwin Mehta taking nine students to India over winter break in 2014 for an intensive course in entrepreneurship.

Five years later, the Global Entrepreneurship Exchange (GE2) program has surpassed Mehta’s loftiest expectations.

The GE2 program reached the 1,000-student milestone this summer as 75 students and faculty from 12 countries converged on campus for two weeks of multicultural, interdisciplinary collaboration designed to teach the fundamentals of launching a business.

“When we started the program, we never thought that it would last five years and become a truly global program,” says Mehta, who has now conducted 18 GE2 sessions – both on campus and abroad – with participants from 22 countries.

An initiative of the Wilson Center for Entrepreneurship, the GE2 program has not only introduced the university to hundreds of international scholars, it has also given nearly 200 UML undergraduate and graduate students “a new perspective on the world outside the United States,” Mehta says.

GE2 students share their project posters Image by Ed Brennen
A GE2 participant shares his group's project poster as part of the GE2 Student Venture Challenge.

At a University Crossing ceremony that was part anniversary celebration, part welcome event for the summer session, Chancellor Jacquie Moloney thanked Mehta, as well as the faculty members, partner institutions and companies that have made the GE2 program a success.

“Entrepreneurship changes lives and transforms communities,” said Moloney, adding that GE2 “introduces students to the many benefits of connecting across borders and cultural barriers.”

This summer’s session included undergraduate and graduate students from India, China, Guyana, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Belgium, Italy and Kenya.

“This has been magnificent for us,” says Prof. Zachary Awino, who brought 10 students from the University of Nairobi – a first-time participant in the program. “We have met quite a number of scholars from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences. We have learned a lot, especially in the area of innovation and creativity.”

Chancellor Jacquie Moloney speaks at the opening ceremony Image by Tory Wesnofske
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney welcomes GE2 students to campus during a meet-and-greet at University Crossing.

Divided into teams of five, students collaborated on real-life technological and social projects for the GE2 Student Venture Challenge. Applying what they learned in coursework, teams were required to evaluate the commercialization potential of their projects, which they presented during a closing poster session.

Dhanya Venkataraman, an international student from India who is pursuing her master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences from the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences, signed up for the three-credit course because she hopes to one day start her own business.

“Coming from a science background, I didn’t know the first step,” she says. “But this kind of global setting, this is exactly how the environment will be. It’s going to be about connecting with people across the globe. I’m so thankful I took this course.”

Outside the classroom, students made field visits to MKS Instruments in Methuen, Wintriss Controls in Acton, and EforAll and the Innovation Hub in Lowell. They also had the opportunity to explore the Boston area.

GE2 students present their posters Image by Ed Brennen
GE2 students share their idea for a guitar tuner during poster presentations at University Crossing.

Guest speakers included entrepreneur Diane Hessan, who founded the online consumer platform Communispace in 1999 and is now a columnist for the Boston Globe.

“As an entrepreneur, you need to look for the serendipity,” Hessan advised students during her talk at Alumni Hall. “Go to a program like this, because at least one person in this room will change their life because of someone they met at one of these tables.”

Hessan’s words resonated with Cecilia Idika-Kalu, a doctoral student of global studies in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

“She spoke to my fundamental values of how entrepreneurship is a sure driver for change and improvement for communities and people across the world,” says Idika-Kalu, who is from Nigeria and entering her third year of Ph.D. studies.

Entrepreneur Diane Hessan speaks to GE2 students Image by Ed Brennen
Communispace founder Diane Hessan shares entrepreneurial advice during her guest lecture at Alumni Hall.

Idika-Kalu, who earned her MBA from Pittsburg State University in Kansas, enrolled in GE2 to “expand my horizon.”

“Like many things at UMass Lowell, this program has had a lot of real-life applications,” she says. “I’ve learned so many hands-on lessons in terms of business development and engagement with other countries. But beyond engaging, this has been enlightening.”

In June, Mehta led seven Manning School students on a two-week GE2 program in China, where they learned alongside students from Nanjing University of Postal and Telecommunications and KLE Technological University in Hubli, India.

Several students blogged about the trip, which included visits to the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square and telecommunications company China Unicom.

“This trip was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” blogged Kristopher Masrof, a senior business administration major from Waltham. “I am forever grateful that I took this opportunity to study abroad in China.”