Igniting Innovation Through Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship Symposium Sparks Collaboration Between Emerging Entrepreneurs and Industry Pioneers

Welcome Table at the Inn at Villanova Entpreneurship Symposium
The Inn at Villanova provides the perfect backdrop for aspiring entrepreneurs to learn from industry visionaries

The inaugural event, from Villanova’s College of Professional Studies, connects aspiring entrepreneurs with established visionaries and field experts to learn design thinking principles alongside idea-building workshops.


A weekend full of entrepreneurial spirit was on full display at the inaugural Entrepreneurship Symposium presented by Villanova University's College of Professional Studies (CPS) on March 1–3, 2024. The three-day event invited students across all six colleges to a symposium centered around design thinking and rife with hands-on workshop experience.

Before the weekend, students were asked to observe, through an empathetic lens, a list of ninety-nine problems people encountered in the world around them. Ann Goody, Daniel J. Hogarty, Jr., ’61 Director, Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Villanova, described the purpose behind the assignment, saying, “Design thinking always starts with empathy because we want to design things with humans in mind. Empathetic human experience is the basis of what entrepreneurship means at Villanova.”

The symposium itself was born out of a desire to build and expand the portfolio of programs offered alongside the Entrepreneurship Major/Minor. By showcasing how entrepreneurship is fostered at Villanova, CPS hopes to attract entrepreneurial-minded students seeking innovative education opportunities, like the ones offered in the program.

The weekend kicked off with a fireside chat on Friday evening. Sandro Rocco, ’09 COE, Founder and CEO of Sanzo; Paula Belatti, ’14 VSB, Co-Founder and COO of Clove; and Chris Josephs, ’18 VSB, Co-Founder and Head of Growth at Autopilot, joined Goody as she facilitated casual conversation between the impressive alumni entrepreneurs and symposium attendees.

Jack Reidenbach, ’27 CPS, said he was blown away by the conversation. “It was an amazing group of entrepreneurs, and I loved hearing how they have evolved from their time at Villanova, their entrepreneurial journeys, the mistakes they made, and how they problem-solved along the way.”

Another student, Troy Vlahos, ‘25 CPS, echoed Reidenbach’s sentiments: “I really enjoyed hearing from the Friday evening alumni because I see them as 'real-time’ entrepreneurs. They weren’t speaking about something they had already done and moved on from. They’re active in their work right now.”

Sandro Rocco, Ann Goody, Paula Belatti and Chris Josephs pose for a picture
From left, Sandro Rocco, ’09 COE, CEO of Sanzo; Ann Goody Daniel J. Hogarty, Jr., '61, Director Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Paula Belatti, ’14 VSB, COO & Co-Founder of Clove; and Chris Josephs, ’18 VSB, Co-Founder & Head of Growth for Autopilot

But Friday was only the start of a jam-packed weekend of events. On Saturday, students learned about design thinking principles, how to approach startup financials, and participated in a workshop centered on branding and marketing, among other hands-on learning experiences.

But Friday was only the start of a jam-packed weekend of events. On Saturday, students learned about design thinking principles, how to approach startup financials, and participated in a workshop centered on branding and marketing, among other hands-on learning experiences.

When asked what sets this symposium apart from other entrepreneurial educational experiences, Goody remarked on the integrated experiential learning process. “Unlike most entrepreneurship education options, this isn’t a lecture; it’s a hands-on learning experience where students get both practical and tactical knowledge that they can apply to any kind of business idea.”

And the student attendees agreed. Vlahos was specifically impressed by the spirit of collaboration inspired by multi-generational student representation. “Having different generations as part of my team in the workshops was really eye-opening. I saw how absolutely critical it is to be collaborative and to invite feedback. When you do, you get better results and better yourself overall.”

Saturday’s workshops were presented by expert instructors Dr. Alysha Meloche, VSB Faculty; Brandon Howell, General Manager at Couch Tomato; Dr. Amy Miller, Director, Wharton School of Business; and Ann Goody, Daniel J. Hogarty, Jr., ’61 Director, Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Over the course of the day, students learned about design thinking principles, explored the viability of their ideas through customer discovery and prototyping, and were introduced to start-up financial and marketing tactics. The day culminated in an elevator pitch workshop run by Dr. Amy Miller. Vlahos expressed that the exercise was one of his top takeaways of the weekend. “[Dr. Miller] was able to immediately dissect your pitch and provide real feedback and improved methods you could use to re-draft your pitch.

Students at the symposium work at a table together to brainstorm ideas.
Entrepreneurship Symposium students brainstorm using design thinking principles.

By Sunday, students had taken their initial ideas and developed them into executable designs. Stephen Green, Assistant Director, Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, had students take their designs through a go-to-market workshop where they learned the necessary steps to take a product to market. Building on the previous day’s elevator pitch workshop, students participated in a ‘Q No A’ session fielding questions about their products and designs, with no direct answers allowed. Instead, students compiled the questions for later reflection as a part of their final paper.

The weekend concluded on Sunday afternoon with a keynote speech from Molly Fowler, CEO of Dorm Room Fund, the nation’s original student venture fund.

Reflecting on the overall event, Reidenbach considered the learning and developing of the execution process. “This was a really out of the box and hands-on experience that helped attendees focus on idea generation and narrowing the breadth of ideas into executable designs and actionable plans. This symposium helps you think through the entire process to equip you to be able to successfully execute your ideas.”

And equipping students is truly at the heart of what the Entrepreneurship Symposium is about. According to Goody, “the hope is that through this symposium, students are taught skills and knowledge to put into practice so that when they do have an idea, whether that’s tomorrow, next month, or years from now, whenever that idea takes root, they are able to truly leverage the experience they gained here.”


About Villanova University’s College of Professional Studies: Founded in 2014, the College of Professional Studies (CPS) provides academically rigorous yet flexible educational pathways to high-achieving adult learners who are balancing professional and educational aspirations with life’s commitments. The CPS experience embodies Villanova’s century-long commitment to making academic excellence accessible to students at all stages of life. Students in CPS programs engage with world-class Villanova faculty including scholars and practitioners, explore innovative educational technologies and experiences, and join an influential network of passionate alumni. In addition to its industry-leading programs at the nexus of theory and practice, CPS has built a reputation for its personal approach and supportive community that empowers adult students to enrich their lives, enhance their value in the workplace, and embark on new careers.

PURSUE THE NEXT YOU™ and visit cps.villanova.edu for more information about the college, including a full list of education and program offerings.