Tom Duening credits his mentors for sparking his passion for entrepreneurship during graduate school. Now, he’s paying it forward.
“It wasn’t something I knew that much about – I never studied entrepreneurship in school and I didn’t have any entrepreneurs in my family,” Duening said. “I was fortunate to encounter some mentors that guided me into it.”
He’s been an entrepreneur since 1984. Since then, he’s launched nine other companies and helped numerous others throughout the years.
Since then, Duening has helped establish a minor in entrepreneurship, created TEDxUCCS, Lion’s Den Pitch Night, The Garage at UCCS and more.
The Garage at UCCS provides students with a space to build and protect their intellectual ventures, pitch progress on their companies, and receive mentoring from faculty members.
“The most rewarding part is consulting with students and local entrepreneurs to help guide them through entrepreneurship,” he said. “I’m available as their free consultant for as long as I’m breathing.”
In his research, Duening has developed the five virtues of entrepreneurship: create value for other people, respect the judgement of the marketplace, honor your contracts, be resilient, and be resourceful.
“If you practice those virtues every single day – you just are an entrepreneur. Eventually you’ll stumble on some kind of an idea that can be built into a venture – you don’t know when, how, where or why, it just happens,” he said.
In his undergraduate classes, he challenges his students to practice the five virtues of entrepreneurship for 15 weeks, then write a paper about their experience.
“It’s really rewarding to see students who weren’t sure what entrepreneurship was about realize they can start their own ventures too,” Duening said.
Duening received his bachelor’s degree in natural sciences at University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, master’s in philosophy of science and doctorate’s in higher education administration at the University of Minnesota.
“Oftentimes, people say that entrepreneurship is too risky. The thing is, to me, rock climbing’s risky – but to the person who knows how to do it, it’s not risky,” Duening said. “It’s the same with entrepreneurship – once you understand how to do it, it’s not risky. Where you see risk, I see how to take that risk out.”
“You discover sides of yourself you didn’t know you had. Most human beings sub optimize their potential, but until you’re facing the unknown, you don’t know what you’re capable of.”
Duening urges his students to be the entrepreneur they can be, not the entrepreneur somebody else is. He advises them to follow their talent to be competitive and strives to extract that talent to help expose their great ideas.