Q&A: Bill Jackson, 2015 entrepreneurship educator of the year

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s Bill Jackson was named Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year by the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) at its annual conference in Tampa January 22-25. 

The USASBE’s top award recognizes substantial contributions to advancing the way educators think, teach and learn about entrepreneurship. 

Conducted in conjunction with the University of Tampa, the 2015 annual conference, “Sun, Fun and Innovation -- Advancing Entrepreneurship Education and Research,”  took place at the Downtown Tampa Hilton. 

USASBE’s annual gathering is considered the premier national conference for entrepreneurship scholars and educators, and offers a symposium for best practices in entrepreneurship education and program development.
“I’m very humbled by this award,” says Jackson, director of the Entrepreneurship Program at USFSP. “It’s an individual award and honor, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the Entrepreneurship Program.”

Here is a Q&A with 83 Degrees in which Jackson defines entrepreneurship, what advice he gives to those just starting out and what more he thinks could be done to nurture the local entrepreneurial community. 

83D: To what do you attribute the success of USF St. Petersburg’s Entrepreneurship Program?

BJ: It’s been the contributions of the entire team. I was extremely lucky when I was asked to start the program here to be able to find some tremendous people, the first person being Daniel James Scott, the next Nathan Schwagler and then John Morrow as our Entrepreneurs In Residence. I also think a part of that success is the eagerness of the students wanting a program like this and how quickly they jumped on board, getting involved not only with the program but with the community as well. 

83D: What websites or books do you recommend for budding, as well as seasoned entrepreneurs? 

BJ: One of the focuses of our educational side has been business modeling, using Alex Osterwalder’s book on Business Model Generation. A contemporary book is Michael Porter’s book on Competitive Strategy, an important component of entrepreneurship. There’s also Startup Owner’s Manual and Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development by Steve Blank.

83D: Where do you look for thought leadership on entrepreneurship?

BJ: We are lucky in the Tampa Bay area to have some of the most known thought leaders in the nation right here. It’s kind of unusual for one community to have that. Some of these people are Rebecca White at the University of Tampa and Michael Fountain at the University of South Florida. We also have some very good young people who will be future thought leaders, such as Eric Lagori at the University of Tampa, Diana Hechavarria at USF, Daniel James Scott at USF St. Petersburg and Reuben Pressman, the first graduate of the USF St. Petersburg Entrepreneurship program. 

83D: Who do you look to as mentors in your field?

BJ: Some of my own mentors are past recipients of the Educator of the Year Award, like Jeffrey Cornwall at Belmont University, Michael Morris at Oklahoma State or William Bygrave from Babson College. These are some of the people that have paved the way for the entrepreneurship programs that are cropping up across the country. 

83D: What qualities make a good entrepreneur?

BJ: One size doesn’t fit all, but certainly being willing to have an open mind and use it in a creative way is absolutely critical for entrepreneurial success. I don’t always see entrepreneurship as any riskier than a lot of things other people do. Some people are prepared, and it isn’t as much as a risk. We all know that you have to work hard. Sometimes it may very well be the individual that can see around the corner where others can’t - whether we want to call that luck or intuition. The number one thing in my mind is the ability to use their own creativity to see potential solutions to problems that exist.
83D: What more does Tampa Bay need in order to better support its entrepreneurial ecosystem?

BJ: Over the last four or five years, we’ve made tremendous strides in that area. I do think we still have a problem in terms of funding sources and mentality of funding entrepreneurial start-ups. We’ve made such strides in bringing mentors together, developing support systems that we haven’t had in the past, and really having a true environment of entrepreneurship here. We’re missing on the funding side.
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Read more articles by Megan Hendricks.

A Florida native and longtime Tampa Bay resident, Megan Hendricks graduated from the University of South Florida with a master's degree in business administration. She worked at the USF College of Business and has extensive community experience including the Tampa Bay Partnership's Talent Dividend Advisory Board, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Emerge Tampa Bay, Ekhos, and Bar Camp Tampa. She is a former board member and newsletter editor for Creative Tampa Bay. Megan enjoys telling the stories that make Tampa Bay a unique, diverse cultural experience.