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Q&A: McDaniel College welcomes new entrepreneur-in-residence

McDaniel College has named Jennifer Yang of Westminster as its new entrepreneur-in-residence for the newly named Program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, formerly known as The Encompass Distinction. Yang has 23 years experience in strategy, management and technology consulting while working with CXO-level stakeholders at Fortune 50 companies, start-up ventures, and federal agencies.

The Times caught up with Yang to learn how her expertise and new position can benefit college students, especially during a time like this.

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Q: Why is it beneficial to have an entrepreneur-in-residence at a college?

A: Having an entrepreneur-in-residence at the college level adds another dimension to a student’s education. I think it is valuable to share “real world” experiences and show how classroom learning can be applied. This gives students another perspective, one that they might not have easy access to, otherwise. The entrepreneur-in-residence at McDaniel is an advisor and mentor – a great resource for students who are interested in starting their own venture. In this role, I will help guide and support McDaniel students as they consider potential business opportunities and help them make connections. Being an entrepreneur can be a daunting concept (at any age), but it also can be a thrill! We want to encourage students and help them harness their innovative spirit.

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Q: How has the pandemic affected entrepreneurship?

A: The pandemic has been both good and bad for entrepreneurship. The pandemic hurt many small businesses and probably has set some start-ups back, such as those in the hospitality industry. But with challenges come opportunities. The pandemic also has created new markets and new ideas for start-ups. It has shifted consumer behaviors and spurred businesses to innovate and pivot.

In general, one of the toughest things a business owner has to do is “read” the market and anticipate future consumer trends. This drives what products/services to provide, how to market, who to target, etc. They are making calculated decisions each day with some uncertainty, but that’s part of the entrepreneurial spirit. They do not shy away from risk!

Q: You found multiple entrepreneurial ventures. What is the key to your success?

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A: The key to my success is my support network of friends, family, and colleagues who have given me encouragement and advice throughout my journey. I have a confession – I am a VERY risk adverse person and never would have thought one day I would start my own companies. But, over the years, I was drawn more and more into starting my own business. I loved the idea of the challenge and the professional growth opportunity. But I also knew my personality. I often use the analogy of cliff diving. Some people approach the edge and jump without a second thought. Some would not even go near it in the first place, and that was certainly me in college. Now, I slowly walk to the edge and will jump if I have assurance I will be safe at the bottom. That is what my support network is – my invisible safety net, my courage, my counsel. Without that, I would not have even started my businesses, especially the latest venture, Covalent Spirits, which is a craft distillery to be opened on Main Street in Westminster this fall.

I don’t believe entrepreneurs are all from the same mold. I think anyone can be an entrepreneur, but you just need to understand “you” – what type of risk taker, what type of manager, what type of leader. When you have a good sense of that, then you can seek out the skills or support you need to balance or augment to be successful.

Q: What brought you to McDaniel College?

A: I lived in the DC-area for over 20 years and moved to Westminster in 2019 – just two blocks from the college. My now-husband has lived in Carroll County for 25 years, and I often joke that I “moved for love.” McDaniel was looking for a new entrepreneur-in-residence and approached me because of my management consulting background, as well as my experience as an entrepreneur. I also serve on the board of Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC) and was the People’s Choice winner at the 2020 Carroll Biz Challenge.

I have not worked in an academic setting before, and I really liked the idea of being able to mentor young entrepreneurs. Starting your own business is a tough journey. I know I would have benefitted from early advice and encouragement. I look forward to being able to provide this kind of support to McDaniel students.

Q: What’s something you hope students learn from you?

A: With a 23-year career in management consulting, I have worked with many different types of organizations (e.g., large corporations, start-up ventures, non-profits, and government agencies) and tackled a variety of business problems. I also am an entrepreneur, going through another start-up journey right now. I hope the students can learn from the diversity of my experiences and understand there is not a “one-size-fits-all” model for an entrepreneurial venture.

Yes, there are standard tools and concepts that are essential for planning a business (or non-profit) start-up. But I want them to realize at the crux of being an entrepreneur is to innovate, which means to be different from everyone else. I hope the students learn from their peers but do not get too tangled with comparisons. I hope students learn best practices from us but are not timid to push the envelope. Wherever the students’ entrepreneurial journeys take them, I hope what they learn will be valuable as part of their overall professional growth.

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