Gatepost Interview: Mark Hardie, Director of Entrepreneur Innovation Center

(Photo by Cesareo Contreras)

What is your background and educational history?

My background is in entrepreneurship and starting companies. I went to Tufts University and the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. While I was at Sloan, I ended up working on two different startups – one while I was there for the entire time – and then I left to join a founder launching a research firm. Prior to that, I had been in an IT career, but I had been in some startup and some small organizations as well. So, the type of work we do here is familiar to me, having done that type of work.

What led you to come to FSU?

The [Entrepreneur Innovation Center hybrid] model, quite frankly – this idea that you could combine co-working with an innovation center and then have an interesting internship program as part of that. I was in the process of launching an incubator and trying to raise capital and was going to do a hybrid model of co-working incubator and career services expertise. And so seeing that Framingham was launching a hybrid model, I thought it would be interesting to give it a try.

Can you explain how FSU’s innovation center works?

The Framingham State University Innovation Center is a critical piece in the now College of Business … that supports the entrepreneurship programs and courses that are offered. One of the drivers behind starting the innovation center was to have a way in which students studying entrepreneurship could get true hands-on
experiences where entrepreneurs were. They weren’t left to their own devices to try and find entrepreneurs to work with. What’s unique about Framingham is that they’ve said, “OK, let’s go get the entrepreneurs. Bring them in. Put the students in the same place with them and create or enable this interaction that supports their learning while helping the entrepreneurs get work done.” So, it’s very unique in that sense. You don’t see it at any other campus.

How would you define your role as the director of the Entrepreneurship Innovation Center?

  Grow the center. Pure and simple. Make it bigger. Get it to expand its offerings both to the market and the campus. We have two stakeholders. We have the MetroWest market – entrepreneurs, remote workers and just people for whom a coworking service would be attractive. Then, we have a campus that we are fully part of with students who want to study entrepreneurship. We have to serve both of them equally well. That entrepreneurship program works as the glue in between, and my job is to see that the resource appeals to both of those stakeholders.

What’s one thing students might be surprised to know about you?

I know how to knit and crochet.

What do you like most about working at Framingham State?

The center and the model and the fact that nobody else is doing it. And the University has been incredibly receptive. We’ve been able to grow. We get support from the University all the time – the facilities department, the provost’s office, the president’s [and] the different departments that are all encouraged by the fact that this resource is unique and is available to the campus. I think they are happy. I’m 100 percent dedicated to seeing this source grow.

What’s one piece of advice you have for student entrepreneurs?

Don’t be shy. All entrepreneurs start at a stage where you have to communicate what it is that has got you excited on that idea. The more you learn and the better you are at the earliest of stages communicating that idea, telling other people and getting feedback, the further you’ll go. You can’t do it all by yourself sitting in a room writing business plans. You have to take that idea out to the market and get it tested in the form of opinions. … Entrepreneurship is not a theoretical exercise. It’s not an academic exercise. It’s very much something you have to do in the market with real customers.