Natalie Newman knew she had the drive and ambition to run her own business, but what she needed was direction and inspiration.
She found both in Western Carolina University’s master’s degree program in innovation leadership and entrepreneurship through the College of Business.
Owner of Natalie Nicole boutique and salon in downtown Sylva, Newman, 27, said WCU’s program was just what she was looking for. “When I found the entrepreneurship program, one of the things that really drew me to it was the cost of the program, the length of the program and the fact that it’s online,” she said. “I thought this was a degree I could use regardless of if I was going to start a business or not, to learn the ins and outs of a business. At the time, I thought I wanted to work in management. As a business owner, you do work in management. You do everything. You’re literally doing it all.”
While an undergraduate student, Newman double majored in hospitality and tourism and in marketing, graduating from WCU in 2016. She earned her master’s degree in 2019, starting her retail business in 2018 while enrolled in the program. “It worked out perfectly, because the way the program is set up, I was able to use this business as my business plan,” Newman said.
The program, which requires the completion of 30 credit hours, is designed with working professionals in mind. Taught completely online, the program allows students to continue working while pursuing their degrees, with students typically completing six credit hours of coursework per semester. Students who begin the program in spring or fall semesters can complete the program in five semesters. Students who begin in a summer term can complete the program in six.
“I don’t think I would be where I am today if it had not been for the program. It just lit a fire under me and pushed me to do something different.”
“A hallmark of the program is that students work on building a portfolio of tangible and intangible assets from course to course,” said Bob Lahm, director of the program. “Tangible assets include financial projections, social media and marketing tools, and strategies for involving investors, among others. On the intangible side, students are coached to develop strong personal networks and given assignments to support that, which is critical for long-term success.”
Newman said she has especially enjoyed building relationships with other business owners and learning from mentors she met during the course of her study. “Being around like-minded people and people who wanted to start businesses or already owned businesses showed me I could do this,” she said. “I don’t think I would be where I am today if it had not been for the program. It just lit a fire under me and pushed me to do something different.”
For Newman, the biggest challenge of being a new business owner was learning that the mistakes she made were all part of the process. “There are very few entrepreneurs out there who get it right the first time and then continue to get it right,” she said. “Just being willing to take those chances and make those mistakes and come back from those mistakes and not make them again — that’s the hardest part.”
While Newman learned the nuts and bolts of starting a business, her biggest takeaway from the program was how confident she felt afterward. “I think a lot of people think entrepreneurship is out of their reach. It’s a lot of hard work. I think people see business ownership as a very daunting task,” she said. “The professors really laid out the program in a way that’s understandable for people. It was very engaging and it forced us as students to communicate with one another and build relationships. Like I said — empowerment. I really felt I could do this and do well at it.”
App Deadline: Aug. 1, Dec. 15
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