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New leader of Bradley's Turner School encourages entrepreneurship with a social impact

Tim Shelley

Bradley University's Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation is all about teaching students about starting a business.

But executive director Dr. Mary Conway Dato-on you don't need to be a business major to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. In fact, reaching out to people in vastly different fields is viewed favorably. The Turner School's Social Impact Challenge offers an example.

"We highly encourage students to create a multidisciplinary team to go out and find your friends from different majors. Talk about a problem that's important to you, and then propose a solution," she said. "You don't have to have an enterprise. This is an idea, right?"

She is a proponent of a philosophy called "social entrepreneurship," where a business idea can have a social impact. Contests like the Social Impact Challenge or Big Idea competition can encourage a marriage of those elements.

"The thing with entrepreneurship, whether social or commercial entrepreneurship, is we have to have a viable funding source. And that's where the entrepreneurial mindset lies over," she said. "Okay, where are ways that I might generate revenue in order to sustain the work that I want to do to resolve or move toward resolving this social challenge or environmental challenge?"

Conway Dato-on has a Ph.D in marketing, and a BA in international studies and Spanish from Bradley. She said traveling and living abroad fosters innovative thinking. She knows about that experience firsthand, and it's inspired her to continue outreach.

"I have a passion in the social space for empowering women and for using business models to advance economic development, particularly for women and women in marginalized communities, both here in the United States and in emerging markets," she said.

Conway Dato-on has brought the Global Links Initiative to Bradley University. It pairs students with successful female entrepreneurs in emerging countries, including India and Brazil. Dato-on says it's essentially a "train the trainer" model.

"It solves two problems, while also then moving and advancing women entrepreneurs and women's businesses, improving their business through growth, improving themselves and the students through building self confidence, and then considering that social and economic impact of their business," she said.

A group of Brazilian students will be staying at Bradley starting in January. Conway Dato-on said they've earned an immersive experience after working as mentors for female entrepreneurs. The students will be living in Geisert Hall, attending classes, and participating in some programming.

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Corrected: October 3, 2023 at 9:39 AM CDT
The spelling of Dr. Dato-on's name has been corrected.
Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.