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Power of the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Advice From Alumni Entrepreneurs Who Gave Back During ’CUSE50 Summit
Tracy Barlock, Max Levitt and Mike Haynie

Sport Management alum Max Levitt ’11 (center) received a ’CUSE50 Alumni Entrepreneur Award from Senior Vice President and Chief Advancement Officer Tracy Barlock and Mike Haynie, vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation and executive dean of the Whitman School. Levitt, who lives in Washington, D.C., is the founder/executive director of Leveling the Playing Field, a company that redistributes equipment to expand access and equity within youth sports and recreation programs in under-resourced communities.

The power and impact of the entrepreneurial spirit was on center stage during two recent alumni events on campus. First, on Nov. 9, 50 of the fastest-growing Syracuse University alumni-owned businesses were honored during the inaugural ’CUSE50 Alumni Entrepreneur Awards.

At the awards ceremony held at the National Veterans Resource Center at the Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello Building, J. Michael Haynie, vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation and executive dean of the Whitman School kicked off the evening. “I am an evangelist for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is about empowerment,” said Haynie. “I know this because the work that I do has afforded me a front row seat to see how entrepreneurship can change the trajectory of lives.”

Tamekia Flowers-Ball
Tamekia Flowers-Ball

Ball stressed to her fellow honorees the importance of extending a hand and opportunity to the next generations of awardees. “Whether hiring current students as interns or donating to scholarship programs, like Our Time Has Come, spearheaded by the Office of Multicultural Advancement, let’s ensure the success of future generations,” said Flowers-Ball.

The following day, the alumni gave back to the community that they so proudly came from by taking part in the ’CUSE50 Summit. The summit was open to the entire campus community, but specifically targeted students to allow them to learn about startup thinking, to develop personal and professional skills and to meet and network with alumni founders and top executives of fast-growing companies.

The day started with welcome remarks from Haynie and Alexander McKelvie, interim dean of the Whitman School of Management and professor of entrepreneurship. McKelvie thanked the alumni panelists for paying it forward to the next generation. “Each of you likely remember that one friend, mentor or role model who helped inspire you and think differently about how you approach a challenge,” said McKelvie. “Today is about that same inspiration.”

Entrepreneurship certainly changed the lives of many alumni honored during the ’CUSE50 awards. This was showcased during the interactive panels with the honorees and more than 300 students during two different sets of sessions of the ’CUSE50 Summit. Topics included developing entrepreneurial and growth mindsets, community building and customer acquisition, branding, finding talent and developing teams, mental health and the startup life, finding advisors, mentors and coaches, and setting yourself up for success by raising money and leveraging resources.

Students meet with alumni and top executives

Students meet and network with alumni founders and top executives of leading companies at the ‘CUSE50 Summit. (Photo by Jeremy Brinn)

When asked what advice they would give to young entrepreneurs who are hoping to start and/or grow a business, here’s what a few of the ’CUSE50 winners had to say:

“Never stop asking questions. Seek advice at all turns. Every business can be improved and the key for entrepreneurs is to identify the opportunities and fill the need. It is also normal to fail, regroup and try again.”—Adam Sulimirski ’85, managing partner of ICON EV Cruise Car

“Work for either an entrepreneur or an entrepreneurial-oriented organization for a bit after college to learn the good, the bad and the ugly. Learn what works and what you like and build your business around those values. You will attract like-minded people who share your passions, and you will love coming to work every day.”—Frank Shultz ’03, CEO and founder of Infinite Blue

“Embrace every learning opportunity, even if it seems unrelated to your primary field of study. Skills and knowledge acquired in one area can often be applied in unexpected ways in another. Stay adaptable, be open to change, and always prioritize effective communication. Surround yourself with a diverse team that brings different perspectives and strengths to the table. Also, be mission-driven and seek inspiration from the brands, companies, and causes you work for. Aim to inspire others to achieve bigger and better things than they can do alone.”—Whitney Mitchell ’06, CEO and founder of Beacon Digital Marketing

“Just start building and don’t be afraid to fail because the failure is putting you one step closer to achieving your ultimate goal.” —Kori Hale ’13, CEO of CultureBanx

An SU story by Christine Weber originally published on November 14, 2023