A Conversation with Scott Meyer
Photos by Hillary Ehlen
Tromsø, Norway is the third largest city north of the Arctic Circle and approximately 3,926 miles from Brookings, South Dakota. However, that’s really where the journey to become NDSU’s first ever Ozbun Director of Entrepreneurship began for Scott Meyer.
After graduating from Luther College, Meyer attended the University of Tromsø where he graduated with a masters in peace and conflicts. The original plan was to become a diplomat or work in foreign aid. However, once he moved back to the States, he was bit by the entrepreneurial bug and started a marketing company with his brother John called 9 Clouds.
Last fall, Scott sold 9 Clouds and that’s when Greg Tehven came calling and his life was uprooted to Fargo. Now with the title of Ozbun Director of Entrepreneurship, Meyer is tasked with connecting the university to the business community and igniting the passion of entrepreneurship in his students.
How has the Fargo reception been?
It’s been fantastic. I grew up in Brookings and I came to Fargo for events on and off. About seven years ago, I came to an event called the Misfit Conference. That was the first time I realized there’s something unique. There are a lot of people with interesting ideas working together. My friend Greg Tehven – who does a lot of community building – basically asked me to move to Fargo every six months for seven years. He finally wore me down.
Fargo was a community that I could see myself being a part of. It has the whole package of professional opportunities for myself and my wife, who is a midwife, a dynamic business environment, family amenities and a welcoming vibe. Plus, the food, coffee and beer scene is sneaky great and that made the transition from Saint Paul easier than expected.
“I’m basically seeding the entrepreneurial ecosystem. I’m trying to get students involved in the community, get faculty involved with other faculty and connect NDSU with the state.”
So the big question is: what does a director of entrepreneurship do?
That’s the fun part. NDSU wants to contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Fargo, but I’m given the freedom to figure out what that means. I get to be an entrepreneur while promoting entrepreneurship. We are seeding the entrepreneurial ecosystem as our core mission. I’m trying to get students involved in the community, get faculty involved with other faculty and connect NDSU with the state.
I see the land grant university mission as having a new importance, which is bringing innovative ideas from NDSU to the rest of the state. We want our students to learn, connect and create. First, they can learn entrepreneurship through a variety of courses at NDSU, including our entrepreneurship certificate and minor. Second, we help connect them with events, opportunities and resources on campus, in the Fargo-Moorhead community and across the state. Finally, we are here to help them create their projects, side hustles and businesses with mentorship, funding and encouragement. Fargo has so much going for it in terms of entrepreneurship, so we really want to be the front door to connect to that ecosystem.
With the mission of seeding the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Fargo through innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, the Nice Center will be where you can follow along on Meyer and NDSU’s journey as they promote entrepreneurship to their students.
Why should the business community care about this?
For the business community, we want to help them connect with campus. We want our students to find great businesses to work with, and we know that the business community can help train and prepare our students for life after the university. That’s why I would love to hear from anyone in town interested in proving mentorship, speaking in classes, leading skills workshops and sharing what we’re doing.
We are working towards official certification as a center that we will call The Nice Center. We want to encourage innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship so new students will choose themselves. Instead of trying to decide what degree will get them a job with a company, we want them to say, “I can do this on my own.”
I’m sure you know that one of the biggest problems that Fargo faces is a workforce shortage problem. This seems like a perfect tie-in to help solve that.
I think an important way of thinking of entrepreneurship is as workforce development because most people aren’t going to leave the university and start a business but every business needs self-starters. These students might go to a company, start working and say, “I can do this a little faster, a little better,” and either help that company improve or decide to start their own initiative.
It seems like a juxtaposition between entrepreneurship and the bureaucracy of a university system.
I think that’s kind of fun. I’m making some of the academics slightly uncomfortable with the speed and pace but I think what will make this program unique is the real world experience. That’s where the business community can help out. We want to learn and read about entrepreneurship but the best way to really get excited about it is to do it. That’s why we have the focus on connecting and creating.
I bring almost 10 years of running a business, selling a business, starting projects that have failed and succeeded and I’m encouraging students to do the same. It’s been helpful thus far to have that skill set and have the support of Dean Scott Beaulier to really say, “Go do it and be an entrepreneur in this center.”
What do you think the Fargo business community is missing?
We’ve identified that capital has been a concern, especially on the smaller side of things in terms of angel investing and having a process around that. We’re looking at ideas like a student venture capital fund that would actually help solve some of those issues.
From my perspective, the big picture challenge is getting the university to be a part of the community instead of a separate entity. For people in the business community, if they come with ideas, we’ll take them and run with them. My job is to be that integrator. The more they can bring, the better.
Is the announcement of $50 million for the Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth going to affect anything you’re doing?
It’ll create more opportunities. Now there will be more faculty and more researchers thinking about entrepreneurship. I think the gift will grow our potential of developing innovative students in multiple fields, whether it’s social entrepreneurship, business, intrapreneurship or technology. I think the center can be whatever we make it and this gift will help us think bigger.
In your first 10 weeks, you have 10 initiatives you want to launch with the students. Tell us about them.
We really think about three audiences. We have our students, our faculty and the community. We wanted to think about what initiatives will really get people engaged and excited. Over the next 10 weeks, we’re going to launch 10 of them.
This week, we launched the Nice Explorers, which is scholarships for students to go learn outside of campus. Next week, we’re excited to launch a program called CoSearch that will take place April 12-13. It is a 30 hour research competition where faculty share a research idea, form teams around the different ideas and end up with a research proposal that they pitch to judges and the community Saturday night. We then provide funding so they can actually go do that research. It’s helping faculty also be entrepreneurial.
We’re also going to have a media center here. When you talk about the business community, I think one thing that has been missing is telling the stories of the researchers and students. You (Fargo INC!) do a great job on the community side. How do we share with the community what’s happening here? We’re going to be launching a podcast, video series, blog and more, all led by student media producers.
Anything else you want the business community to know about?
I would love for people to subscribe to the blog at thenicecenter.org. That’s where we’re going to be launching new initiatives and putting out requests for what’s going on. I know we’ll be looking at expanded mentorship opportunities. That would be a place that we would love to get other businesses involved. As a professor of entrepreneurship, I try to bring entrepreneurs every single day to my class. If someone has experience that they would love to share, we would love to hear it, whether that’s on the podcast or in the classroom.
Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth
Last month, NDSU announced the establishment and launch of a research institute focused in areas of global innovation, trade and economic growth. The Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth is possible thanks to $30 million from Sheila and Robert Challey, the Charles Koch Foundation and other benefactors. This institute will encourage studies of questions such as: how do global innovation, trade and institutions advance human potential?; how do structural barriers limit full participation and advancement in economies? and how different policies impact diverse communities in the region and throughout the U.S. economy?