Talking Shop with James Stapleton, director, Southeast Missouri State University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Tuesday, September 8, 2009
James Stapleton (Fred Lynch)

James Stapleton's path to success began on a Kansas farm and eventually led to a decade-long entrepreneurial career that has resulted in his current role as director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Southeast Missouri State University. Southeast Missourian business reporter Brian Blackwell last week learned more of what shaped Stapleton and his views on the importance of entrepreneurship.

Q: What is it exactly that you do each day?

A: I have a dream job. In my university teaching responsibilities, I have the opportunity to work with students who are exploring the nature and importance of entrepreneurship. It's amazing to watch them begin to understand the increasing importance of being entrepreneurial. From those planning to start new ventures to those simply wanting to adopt a more creative and productive way of living, it is very rewarding to provide students with tools that will lead to their success. In my administrative responsibilities I have the opportunity to work with an amazing group of people at Southeast who are committed to improving the quality of lives, communities and businesses in our region through our economic development programs.

Q: How did you get to where you are today?

A: For the past two years I served as the director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies in the Harrison College of Business. The university recently decided to combine these academic programs with the community service programs previously offered by the Southeast Innovation Center, Small Business & Technology Development Center and Missouri Research Corp. I was fortunate to be named the executive director of the newly organized Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Q: What makes your job so enjoyable?

A: Entrepreneurs and small businesses create most of the new jobs each year in the United States. It is extremely enjoyable to play even a small role in such an important aspect of society.

Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of since coming to Southeast, especially in the past two years?

A: The tremendous growth in the number of students participating in entrepreneurship classes and activities is particularly satisfying. With the support of the university leadership and faculty, we have established one of Missouri's most comprehensive entrepreneurship programs. The recent consolidation of our academic programs with our community service programs is also a major accomplishment that establishes a foundation for amazing experiential learning opportunities for our students and expanded service to our communities.

Q: Business is a changing environment. How do you prepare students and the community for life in the business world?

A: The essence of the entrepreneurship process is the constant search for opportunities to create value from limited resources. At Southeast we believe it is important for every student, regardless of their career choice, to understand how they can apply this process to improve their lives and the lives of others in their communities. Whether they are single mothers with limited incomes, church leaders, artists or aspiring business leaders, learning to use the entrepreneurial process is a key to success in our increasingly rapidly changing society.

Q: Are there some big things planned for the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship?

A: There isn't near enough room to share all of our plans. Here are a couple highlights.

In our academic program we will soon complete the development of an integrated arts and business minor in Arts Entrepreneurship. This is a very unique program that will provide a wonderful opportunity for the growing number of students in the School of Visual and Performing Arts to enhance their careers. We have an amazing set of events planned during Global Entrepreneurship Week, Nov. 16 through 21, which will bring a diverse group of the most successful entrepreneurs in the nation to Southeast Missouri. In our community service program we have just received a sizable grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to work with rural communities in our region to develop entrepreneurial plans that will lead to the start-up of new ventures and growth of current businesses. We have also received support from the local WIRED initiative to provide teacher training and curriculum to high school teachers and students interested in entrepreneurship.

Q: What do you see as the future for entrepreneurs and how hard is it today for someone trying to be innovative in business?

A: Despite the increasingly competitive global economy, I believe the future is bright for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial people. Historically, recessions and economic slowdowns tend to be followed by periods of fantastic innovation and entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurial spirit of our people will lead us again to find solutions to our economic and social challenges.

Q: Tell me about your hometown, family growing up, education, anything else about your early life.

A: I grew up in a small farming community in Kansas. Both of my parents were blue collar workers that despite their lack of education instilled in me and my two sisters a very strong work ethic. I became interested in entrepreneurship and business development immediately after high school working at a retail sporting goods store for a proprietor that had given up a successful banking career to start his dream venture. After a successful 10 year entrepreneurial career I determined that I wanted to share my experiences and assist others interested in entrepreneurship.

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: I love to spend time with my wife Stacy and our two dogs. I also enjoy fly fishing and spend as much time as possible in my woodworking shop.

Q: What is something most people don't know about you?

A: I used to be a wedding singer. I'm just thankful that smartphones with video cameras and YouTube were not available.

Q: If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be and why?

A: My two favorite entrepreneurs are Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, and Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and 2006 Noble Prize winner. In very different ways both of these individuals have provided lead innovative revolutions that inspire entrepreneurs around the world.

Q: What is your motivation for getting up each day?

A: I greatly appreciate the satisfaction I receive from helping others pursue and achieve their goals. I passionately believe that entrepreneurial behavior is an important 21st Century skill and I am pleased to have an opportunity to inspire others to embrace creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Q: Who has influenced you the most and why?

A: My wife has been the best friend a person could hope for. During our 20+ year friendship we have helped each other grow and enjoyed personal and professional happiness I could have never imagined.

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