By Deborah Lohse, Associate Director, Media & Internal Communications, Santa Clara University

Mariah Manzano (photo courtesy of Santa Clara University)

Mariah Manzano (photo courtesy of Santa Clara University)

From the moment she arrived at Santa Clara University (SCU) in 2016, Mariah Manzano wanted to learn about entrepreneurship. She saw her mom, who owns a data-analyst recruitment business, charting her own career course with creative control and flexible work hours, and wanted that for herself.

Luckily, there were plenty of outlets for Manzano, even with the rigorous course schedule required for her majors: web design and engineering. For starters, she took a string of 1-unit entrepreneurial courses at the School of Engineering, which were created with funding from the national Keen Entrepreneurship Education Network.

Through a class in intellectual property, Manzano learned about a free non-credit course called the Bronco Venture Accelerator (BVA) Prep School. For several months, she and 30 other like-minded SCU students shared ideas and strategies for moving their business ideas to the next level. That experience helped Manzano minor in entrepreneurship and get into the more-intensive, five-month Bronco Venture Accelerator, where she started a platform called Opal to help students find mentors to build out their business and skills network.

After graduation, Manzano went to work at Cisco as a software engineer. Her interviewers were impressed by the training in design-thinking and user experience she received at SCU, and have given her design projects outside of her traditional duties. She plans to launch Opal next year, aided by some 40 student volunteers who signed on to help, and about 300 SCU alumni and others who agreed to join the mentor network.

The Opal collaboration “gave a lot of people an opportunity to learn and grow,” and add to their own resumes, said Manzano. “The best projects come out of diverse minds.”

Manzano is a classic example of one of Santa Clara’s key strategic goals: ensuring that no matter their major, no matter their passion, all SCU students will be exposed to the ethos of entrepreneurship and innovation, and find support for their own startup aspirations if they choose.

“Our mission is to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in all students,” said Chris Norris, who runs the Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was created two years ago to be a campus hub and elevate interdisciplinary offerings across campus.

“The basic skills of entrepreneurship are life skills,” said Norris. “Empathy (understanding the situation you’re involved in or the problem you’re trying to solve); seeing problems as opportunities; an ability to deal with risk; and, finally, asking yourself, does everything you’re doing make a difference? All life skills.”

To infuse that agenda across more disciplines at SCU, Ciocca Center is working on several initiatives:

  1. Investing in faculty development, research, course development and other academic offerings, such as those Manzano took.

  2. Increasing interdisciplinary programs that work well in one school and expanding them to others, such as the innovation-focused Maker Lab.

  3. Creating entrepreneurship-focused clinics across campus, similar to SCU’s Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, where supervised students provide advice to startup founders. (In 2021, Ciocca Center will offer a business clinic staffed by entrepreneurship students helping alumni or early-stage founders with business problems.)

  4. Finding ways to adapt non-entrepreneurship classes (such as English courses on the use of the letter press) to be part of the entrepreneurship minor. (This will make it easier for a wider range of students to achieve the minor, and ensure cross-disciplinary exposure for those in the program.)

Santa Clara is already rich in resources, opportunities, and an alumni network steeped in entrepreneurship. For example: providing mentorship, training, and support for social entrepreneurs has long been the mission of SCU’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Since its founding 24 years ago, Miller Center’s numerous accelerator programs have worked with leaders of more than 1,125 social enterprises around the world, improving the lives of 450 million people, and helping the organizations raise some $750 million. More than 140 students have conducted rigorous action research for the organizations as student fellows.

One of Ciocca Center’s signature programs, the Bronco Venture Accelerator, is also starting to gain traction. Among the twelve companies that went through the inaugural program in 2019-20, five received venture funding; one was accepted into Silicon Valley’s prestigious Y Combinator accelerator program; and one was acquired by another company.

“When you’re excited and passionate about an idea and someone nods their head, says ‘yes,’ expands their network or resources, tells you that you should apply for this prep course, and here’s someone you should talk to—they validate your idea,” said Manzano. “With every new conversation, my confidence increased.”

Ciocca Center continues to be guided by three overarching values: maintaining Jesuit ideals; offering students opportunities to learn and incorporate a responsible entrepreneurial mindset; and a deep commitment to experiential learning.

“Santa Clara University resides in the most creative, inventive, wealth-creating region on the planet,” said Norris. “It is a powerful thing to see our students learn innovation and entrepreneurship here, shaped and guided by Jesuit values to care for others.”