Thinking like an Entrepreneur

A Q&A with Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship Director Dennis Bone

Photo: Mike Peters

Dennis Bone

New Jersey business and telecommunications technology leader Dennis Bone will soon complete his first year as inaugural director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at the School of Business. The former president and CEO of Verizon New Jersey, Bone is currently teaching “The Entrepreneurial Mindset and Innovation,” the first of three, three-credit courses leading to a new Certificate of Entrepreneurship.

What convinced you to become the director of the Feliciano Center?
A few things brought me here. I’d spent nearly 34 years at Verizon and was anxious to move on to do something else, but I had no idea what that might be. I had some goals: I wanted a different environment and I wanted to be stimulated. I wanted to get out of bed and do something meaningful each day.

When this opportunity came along, I didn’t jump on it up front, but I did consider it. It became clear to me that entrepreneurial thinking has become so valuable to our economy and to our society today. That’s a basic tenet of what led me here.

Has teaching been a big adjustment for you?
This isn’t the first time I’ve been a teacher. I taught math in Annapolis, Maryland before beginning my career at Verizon.

What is the course like?
With its focus on creative and innovative problem solving, at times, it’s like a creativity boot camp. Students create things they thought they would not be able to make. It’s a deep dive into teamwork.

Every week, one hour is given to a guest entrepreneur. Students are exposed to some awesome conversations and learn first-hand what’s in these entrepreneurs’ heads.

My role and the role of faculty in this program is non-traditional. We are facilitators, coaches and mentors.

What are the students like?
This course and program is for every student on campus.

There are 33 students in the class from all over the University. About a third are from the School of Business, but we also have undergraduates majoring in everything from Anthropology and Fashion Studies to Psychology and Mathematics.

Women make up 58 percent of the class, which is a bit of a big deal as women are traditionally underrepresented in entrepreneurial studies. We’re making a conscious effort to recruit women to the program.

These students understand the world that’s waiting for them is a changing, dynamic environment. They need to look at the world, see problems that need to be fixed and collaborate on solutions. They instinctively get this.

Student feed back has been great. One has said, “It’s totally different from anything Montclair State offers. It really challenges your way of thinking.” Another describes it as an experience “you don’t get anywhere else.”
The course has been the most pleasant and wonderful development. The students love it! The course is entirely experiential: you can’t learn how to think and behave like an entrepreneur by sitting in a lecture hall. You have to think creatively and do it yourself.

This has been a moving experience for me. I can’t underestimate the joy I get watching students make this journey and hearing their feedback. Some of them have told me the course is changing their lives.

Outcomes are a big concern for students. What kind of impact will this program make?
This program definitely gives students an edge. Six or seven of them already know they want to start their own businesses one day – they wear this on their sleeves! There are lots of opportunities out there today!

The second and third courses will be offered in the spring. Will most of the current students continue on to earn their certificates?
I did an informal survey in class recently and 75-80 percent raised their hands to indicate they were planning to register for the next courses.

Is an entrepreneurship minor or major in the works?
We are working towards this in an organic way – the only way to grow this program.

I’m working with Theatre and Dance Professor Neil Baldwin to design a stand-alone course on creativity that will be cross-listed both as a College of the Arts and Entrepreneurship course.

We’re also working with Earth and Environmental Studies professor Robert Taylor on another cross-listed course that’s based on the premise that most environmentally sustainable initiatives are spearheaded by entrepreneurs.

Both courses are targeted for fall 2014 and could eventually be applied towards a minor or major. My hope is that these kinds of partnerships and course offerings will continue to develop across the campus.

Does anything stand out as a highlight of the past year?
The feedback I’ve gotten is “you’ve done a lot in a little bit of time.” I don’t look at it that way. Opportunities knock on the door every single day. I only wish I could capture them all.

For example, I met Lewis Schiff, chairman and executive director of Inc. Business Owners Council. I was able to say, “Hey, want to come to class and talk to our students?” He came and was brilliant. This kind of thing has happened over and over.

How have alumni responded to the Center and its programs?
Response is growing.

Daryl Bryant ’00, who founded the crowdfunding portal Startup Valley and who is president and CEO of the web agency, Hudson Horizons, and the agency’s VP of web development, Matt Mayernik ’02 have been very supportive, for instance.

We want to engage alumni, so we created the Montclair State Entrepreneurship Meetup networking events.

We’ve had five other well-attended events this year. The latest was on disruption – how technology, innovation and global competition are disrupting careers, companies, industries and markets.

Do you have time to relax?
I enjoy playing golf with my wife. And, of course, anything to do with my family. My three kids are grown now, so anytime we can get together, it’s awesome.

We also grow a full-fledged vegetable garden in a community plot in Madison. This year, we grew tomatoes, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts and peppers.

Read a profile of Dennis Bone in The Star-Ledger.