From ivory tower to real business Ozmen Center Blog | University of Economics


February 1, 2021

“At some point you have to stop taking lessons and just do it.” – Rick Sontag in conversation with Reno students from the University of Nevada at the College of Business, 2012.

In an OpEd for the New York Times, David Brooks reflects on the mission of higher education: “Technical and practical knowledge and skills for career preparation are important and necessary goals of higher education. But the best results from a college experience go well beyond … what collectively could be called “knowledge of life and citizenship”. 1

Nevadatude is a mindset that reflects knowledge about life and citizenship. It describes a silver and blue spirit based on the qualities of persistence, determination, work ethic and focus. It promotes values, tradition, and ignites the energy required to prepare, compete, and sustain. It encompasses the action and determination required to be successful. In the end, it is inspiration that drives an invincible determination in the pursuit of excellence

Nevadatude is the perfect accompaniment to the boot strapping mentality that is often needed to start and maintain a business. This attitude has helped Reno and Northern Nevada recover from the 2008 economic downturn that hit Nevada particularly hard. After that downturn, the University of Nevada Reno’s College of Business (COB) made efforts to revitalize its entrepreneurship program. Steps have been taken to develop an entrepreneurship curriculum, recruiting faculties and staff, raising funds to support various program initiatives, and working with local constituents to build strong partnerships between communities. Among other things, the faculty at the time that was involved in the program supported the efforts of the students as part of the Governor’s Cup Business Plan competition.

A business plan is a roadmap for structuring, running, and growing a company. Creating business plans is a popular way to teach aspiring entrepreneurs the necessary elements of a successful business from team building to market analysis, financing and possible exit strategies. Effective business plans can be used to attract potential investment and lay the foundation for successful ventures. However, as is credited to Woody Allen, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” We all know that things don’t turn out quite the way we hoped or expected.

Early in the development of the Entrepreneurship program at the College of Business, Development Manager Kristen Kennedy was working her way through her Rolodex when she came across Rick Sontag – a hugely successful entrepreneur who had made his fortune in the aviation industry. Rick began his entrepreneurial journey at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) as a physics student at the University of Nevada, Reno. After Mr. Sontag and his wife Susan listened to Ms. Kennedy’s pitch, they agreed to give the program $ 25,000 to help the COB revitalize its entrepreneurship program. Before his check arrived, Rick called Kristen back to clarify the goals of the programs. That conversation resulted in a revised $ 100,000 pledge. Before that check could be cleared, he called again – this time with a $ 1 million gift and a plan to start real businesses. A winning take-all competition ($ 50,000 a year) was more than an academic exercise. The aim was to establish a program that goes far beyond a business plan competition. The Sontag Business Competition was born; Faculty, staff, and community volunteers work with student teams to create real work businesses. Funding for the program would come from the foundation created by Sontag’s gift to the college. In the first year of the program, 76 teams signed up to present their ideas.

Since its inception in 2012, the Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition has worked with hundreds of young entrepreneurs and teams to develop creative and innovative business ideas. In addition, the competition encourages an entrepreneurial mindset that enhances the entrepreneurial ecosystem within the university and the wider northern Nevada community. The Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship continues to build on efforts like the Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition to engage students, support innovative ventures, and promote an entrepreneurial mindset. Putting ideas into practice – from the ivory tower into a productive economy.

Contributed by:
David T. Croasdell, PhD
Charles and Ruth Hopping Professor of Entrepreneurship & Associate Professor of Information Systems in the
College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno
Director of the Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition 2012-2016

1 David Brooks, Practical University, New York Times, April 5, 2013, accessed January 16, 2021
2 Nevada Wolf Pack Attitude, accessed January 16, 2021