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Passion & Purpose

Fueling Entrepreneurship at Haslam

A hematology specialist and serial entrepreneur in Nashville, Ralph Korpman has always had an entrepreneurial spark. That spark kindled into a flame as Korpman watched his son, Dillon, become involved with the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (ACEI) as an undergraduate student at the Haslam College of Business. “He’s always been full of energy, churning with ideas for new products and services,” says Korpman. “Today, he’s running his own business full-time and doing well at it—thanks in large part to the ACEI and the personalized mentoring he received at Haslam.” It’s a spark Korpman hopes to help ignite in future Haslam students through his support of the Anderson Center and its staff.

INSPIRED TO INNOVATE Dillon made an immediate impression on his instructor, Tom Graves, when he walked into a freshman entrepreneur - ship course. “He was persuasive, enthusiastic, and full of ideas,” Graves, distinguished lecturer and operations director of the Anderson Center, says. “He’s probably the most gifted pro - moter I’ve ever met.” As part of the course, stu - dents were required to come up with a business idea. Dillon was already running a suc - cessful business marketing the services of local musicians to sororities and fraternities on campus. “Like a classic entre - preneur, he saw an opportu - nity that others missed,” says Graves, “and he was making decent money at it.” The following year, Dillon approached Graves with a new idea, a safety alert smartphone app geared toward college students, called SafeSide. “I contacted the associate dean for student affairs, and they set up a meeting with the campus police chief,” Graves recalls. “Dillon pre - sented his concept beautifully.” By the time Dillon graduated in 2018 with a bachelor of sci - ence in business administration, he had started three successful businesses. While he continued to pursue them, he increasingly explored innovative ways to leverage social media. Today, Dillon continues to focus on building his internetbased businesses. Meanwhile, his entrepreneurial interests have moved his father to get involved with the Anderson Center.

MOTIVATED TO PARTICIPATE Impressed by the mentorship his son received from Tom Graves and others at Haslam, Ralph connected with Anderson Center leadership in 2014 and became a judge for the Boyd Venture Challenge, a business plan competition that focuses on students who already have businesses. “I have a lot of fun interacting with students and judging the competitions,” says Ralph. “It fuels my lifelong love for entrepreneurship.” In 2019, Ralph designated a $1 million united foundation gift to the Anderson Center. The funds will be utilized to help students travel to competitions outside the university, meet specialists in their business area, receive focused mentoring, and connect with potential investors. “We want to ensure that students who have good ideas have the financial backing to move forward,” says Ralph. “That means helping them catch the attention of those who can propel them to success.” From Ralph’s perspective, the center represents a unique effort to provide mentorship for students. “By the time Dillon graduated, he was solidly grounded to go out and be a successful entrepreneur,” he says. “That’s a hard skill to teach, but the attention he received there and the amount of time that Graves and others spent to ensure his success is exceptional."

THE FUTURE OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP AT HASLAM Korpman’s gift includes three endowments supporting: academic scholarships, student travel to out-of-town pitch competitions, and the entrepreneur-in-residence program. Entrepreneurs-in-residence bring real-world business coaching, mentoring, and connections to their student mentees and are key facilitators of the Anderson Center’s business accelerator program, which began in 2017. The scholarship, carrying the title of Korpman Entrepreneurial Scholar, was awarded for the first time in 2019. “It went to a young man who started a profitable business keeping bees and making cosmetic products from the wax,” says Ralph. “It’s exciting to watch these innovative young people pursue their ideas.” Ultimately, Ralph relishes the chance to support an endeavor that reflects his own passion for entrepreneurship. “You have to contribute to those things that are unique and deserving, and the Anderson Center is one of those,” he says. “They’re focusing on an area where they excel, and I am glad to be part of it.”

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Haslam Magazine is the premier publication of the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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