The Side Hustle: How to Attract ‘The Entrepreneur Generation’ to Campus

Colleges and universities of every size must consider entrepreneurship program spaces that address the aspirations of today’s students. Dubbed ‘The Entrepreneur Generation,‘ many expect to start their own company—almost 54% of Gen Z’s according to a recent Nielsen study.  Likewise, Gallup found that 40% of 5th to 12th Graders plan to start a business.

This generation, born after 1996 and raised in the ‘influencer’ age, seeks financial independence and the opportunity to make an impact. Gen Z (also called Zoomers) grew up seeing Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard roommates create Facebook in 2004. Startups like Mashable, Tumblr, Firefox and Box followed suit, with founders under the age of 22. And in 2019, the world witnessed activist Greta Thunberg taking on the United Nations Climate Action group at the age of 16.

To respond to the entrepreneurial spirit of Gen Z and help these future leaders develop relevant skills and experience, campuses are investing in maker spaces, think-tanks, incubators and innovation centers located across disciplines and in multiple buildings to encourage access to these resources for all students.

For Alvernia University, this involves converting a former office building in downtown Reading, Pennsylvania into a diverse multi-disciplinary center called CollegeTowne.

CollegeTowne mixed use academic center in downtown Reading

“This building will provide a tremendous cornerstone of student experiential learning, entrepreneurial development and community engagement opportunities.” 

Dr. Rodney Ridley, Vice President, Associate Provost, and Chief Operating Officer, Alvernia University’s O’Pake Institute

Design of Entrepreneurship Program Spaces on Campus

Intentionally designed entrepreneurship program spaces provide the framework for interdisciplinary innovation and showcase the value an institution offers to prospective students.  Designed around the process of generating new ideas, advancing research and launching new ventures, a well-designed entrepreneurial center garners attention from corporate, governmental and institutional sponsors for essential partnerships, resources and mentoring.

Freedom to Think and Create: The entrepreneurial center functions as the hub for students to work alongside like-minded peers, gain exposure to potential partners and solicit feedback and input for their ideas.

Since entrepreneurship can come in as many different variations as there are ideas and products in the world, flexibility is crucial.

A diverse blend of maker spaces, think-tank or incubator zones, co-working offices and private work areas provide the framework for creative thinking, innovative problem-solving and concept exploration in a continually evolving landscape of emerging technologies and business opportunities.

Entrepreneurship program spaces including a diverse mix of maker spaces, think take or incubator zones, co-working offices and private work areas
A diverse mix of maker spaces, think-tank or incubator zones, co-working offices and private work areas provide the framework for entrepreneurship program spaces.

 Future business leaders will expect specific foundational resources to help develop, refine and advance their ideas:

  • Technology – Entrepreneurship program spaces must have the necessary infrastructure and resources for collaboration to occur anywhere. The foundation is reliable WiFi infrastructure to accommodate “plug and share” capabilities for meeting rooms, classrooms, maker spaces, offices and gathering areas that allow for quick setups for presentation or research sharing. Technology also allows connections to extend beyond the building via video conferencing platforms.


  • Brainstorming Tools – While the traditional whiteboard or glassboard are good options, there are other physical and virtual collaborative brainstorming resources available today. As with the physical spaces, flexibility is the key to meeting diverse needs. Wall-mounted and portable whiteboards, as well as writable tables and walls foster in-person collaboration.  Smart boards, interactive flat panel displays and virtual canvas options allow for remote interactions as well.


  • Public and Private Work Areas – Open warehouse-style spaces offer the flexibility and collaboration potential inherent to idea sharing and concept development. However, smaller and more private zones are important components for proprietary research, sensitive or team-specific discussions or simply the option of quiet work areas with minimal distractions.  Open co-working spaces allow for diverse and spontaneous interactions while smaller rooms provide a valuable team resource for the duration of a project or set time period. Flexible furniture throughout all areas of the building allow each of these spaces to adapt for different uses.
Adjacent spaces can provide valuable support resources for entrepreneurship programs
Proximity to arts programs allows for collaboration on branding, visualization and promotion.

Adjacencies: Gen Z has grown up in the age of social media and advertisement overload. Their worlds have been graphic-heavy and they understand the power of good communication and branding for any business concept. Consider locating entrepreneurship program spaces near the arts. Graphic and visual arts, as well as traditional art programs, provide an opportunity for collaboration on branding, visualization and promotion of a business or product idea. Likewise, proximity to engineering or applied science programs can allow for shared use of labs and maker spaces.

In the past, entrepreneurship initiatives fell under the umbrella of a single discipline, often the business or engineering school, and were likely co-located with a particular program. The current trend is for a more independent approach to promote campus-wide inclusivity and inter-departmental partnerships.

A standalone physical presence or multiple spaces spread throughout the campus will position the entrepreneurship program as a vibrant hub that is equally available to all students regardless of their declared major.

Harness Group Energy: Google’s headquarters is frequently cited as a model for entrepreneurial settings for good reason.  The company has mastered the art of harnessing the power of group dynamic with a mix of functional, yet playful spaces to foster creative expression in its many forms. This type of holistic view acknowledges that entrepreneurs tend to be thinkers and sharers, triers and doers. Providing recreational opportunities in an entrepreneurial setting, without the rigidity of a specific programmed space, will enhance students’ ability to brainstorm, problem-solve and formulate ideas. Examples include ping pong tables, board games, building set/model tables or on-line gaming areas with plenty of flexible seating. These group activity areas encourage a comfortable dynamic for casual inspiration.

Entrepreneurship programs should build transparency into maker spaces, collaboration zones and labs to help recruit and retain top tier students and faculty while simultaneously attracting business partners and supporting regional enterprises.

Celebrating Entrepreneurial Successes

Perhaps more important than either the scale or structure of entrepreneurial spaces is recognizing the outward-facing nature of these experiential learning spaces. The entrepreneurial center provides a valuable tool to recruit and retain top tier students and faculty while simultaneously attracting business partners and supporting regional enterprises. This has been the case for York College of Pennsylvania where planners have been working closely with city and state government officials to create a mutually beneficial entrepreneurial center.

“Knowledge Park is a step forward in the evolution of what it means to receive a York College education and how we partner with the community. This type of real-world learning– where students focus on project-based learning and internships while faculty facilitate sponsored research– will happen on our campus and will speak to the student who’s going to want the York College experience.”

Jeff Vermeulen, York College of Pennsylvania’s Assistant Vice President of External Affairs

Showcasing Experiential Learning:  Spaces should be designed to allow for tours, host fundraising galas and other special events to support the local business community. Entrepreneurship programs must build transparency into maker spaces, collaboration zones and labs.

Engage students not directly involved in the program by incorporating spaces for competitions, pitches, and project showcases that allow others to experience the entrepreneurial process.

For example, the Shark Tank television series has inspired campuses across the country to host events where students pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, typically local business leaders.  This engages the student body and fosters creativity and entrepreneurship for students within all majors.

Regular updates on research and projects should be visually and prominently shared to garner interest and future support. Naming opportunities, honor walls, digital signboards and project showcases that highlight current initiatives and past successes of any size help to draw future business leaders into the program.

Entrepreneurship Spaces Need to Be Part of the Campus Tour

An entrepreneurship program can help to transform the academic experience in a way that appeals to Generation Z.  The right setting can help colleges and universities provide the type of experiential learning opportunities, adaptive skills and systems thinking ‘The Entrepreneur Generation’   desires to achieve their career aspirations.

Carson Parr, AIA, LEED BD+C, is a Partner at RLPS Architects.  He leads the firm’s higher education practice, helping clients envision future initiatives through campus programming and planning. He also guides and directs a collaborative, multi-disciplined process during project design and construction. An NCARB registered architect, Carson, holds a Master of Architecture, Community and Urban Design, from Pennsylvania State University.  He is a LEED Accredited Professional, serves as a student mentor and is a board member and past president of AIA Central Pennsylvania.