National platform showcases ECU, Miller School’s growing leadership in rural entrepreneurship education

It’s not uncommon to find Dr. Mike Harris bragging about the Miller School of Entrepreneurship — and all its successes — to anyone he can find. As the director of the Miller School, the bragging comes with the territory, and it’s a duty he’s proud to fulfill, especially when it comes to rural entrepreneurship.

Recently, Harris and the Miller School welcomed colleagues and entrepreneurship educators from universities around the country to participate in the Rural Summit. The attendees, along with the Miller School, participated in the 2022 United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) conference. Harris shared information about successful Miller School programs — like RISE29 and Accelerate Rural NC — discussed best practices, and provided a tour of the almost-complete Isley Innovation Hub (IIH).


J. Fielding Miller holds the 2022 John E. Hughes award. He was presented the award at the USASBE 2022 conference at N.C. State University. The event was hosted by the ECU Miller School of Entrepreneurship. (ECU Photo by Cliff Holis)

During the 2022 United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) Conference in Raleigh, ECU alumnus Fielding Miller ’84 was awarded the John E. Hughes Award for Entrepreneurial Achievement. Miller is the co-founder and CEO of CAPTRUST in Raleigh and member of ECU’s Board of Trustees.

Established in 2018, the award recognizes an individual who, through significant and sustained entrepreneurial initiatives, has demonstrated a unique ability to accept and manage risk, exercise personal control, and acquire personal reward. The recipients are entrepreneurs (new venture, corporate, and/or social) that is committed to entrepreneurship education and has a demonstrated impact in the field of entrepreneurship, community leadership and philanthropic giving.

“I am honored to receive the John E. Hughes Award for Entrepreneurial Advocacy, especially for an initiative that is so near and dear to my heart,” Miller said. “As entrepreneurs, it is critically important that we share our success and give back to the communities we serve. And one of the most important ways to give back is through helping to educate the next generation of entrepreneurial talent.”

According to Harris, the event was another opportunity for the Miller School to showcase its growing repertoire of rural entrepreneurship through leadership, curriculum and milestones.

“We’re trying to create something authentic to who we are as an institution,” Harris said. “We’re excited now to help share some of our lessons and best practices with other institutions that are trying to grow their programs.”

“I think they are (Miller School) … one of the leading examples of what can be done with rural entrepreneurship,” said Dr. Dax Jacobson, dean of the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business, Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. “There’s a lot of different programming … different things, again, with community focus, their engagement with USASBE. I think they’re just one of the great examples.”

“I think ECU is one of the country’s leading institutions when it comes to rural entrepreneurship,” says Dr. Patrick Murphy, Goodrich Endowed Chair of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and director of the entrepreneurship program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “I think they’re known for that, and so that’s what really strikes me, and I learn a lot from watching how they work.”

The Miller School’s recent work is being recognized as a leading institution for its programming and rural entrepreneurship initiatives.

  • In Oct. 2021, the Global Consortium Entrepreneurship Centers awarded it the Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Center award.
  • At the National Small Business Institute Conference, held in March 2021, Miller School took home the National Best Practices Award and National Project Competition of the Year award.
  • Over the last three years, the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine placed the Miller School on its annual list of Top 50 Undergraduate Schools for Entrepreneurship.

USASBE as a platform

USASBE is an organization that aims to advance entrepreneurship education through bold teaching, scholarship and practice. Nine hundred members from 375 institutions have access to resources, syllabus exchanges, videos, certification options and USASBE’s peer-reviewed academic journal, Entrepreneurship Education & Pedagogy. 

Julienne Shields is the organization’s CEO. She recently organized USASBE’s 2022 conference, held Jan. 5-9, in Raleigh. ECU and the Miller school co-hosted the event. She says USASBE and its conference engenders a particularly open culture where people share what they are doing but are also hungry to learn from others.

It’s that culture that Harris and Miller School saw as a major avenue to grow its reputation academically.

“In my opinion, it’s one of the leading academic organizations in the nation for entrepreneurship educators,” Harris said.

“We (USASBE) have many institutions that engage with us, but there is an intentionality behind what the Miller School is doing,” Shields said. “They looked at the constellation of assets that USASBE has and figured out how they can support and leverage those assets to the benefit of the school and the students.”

The programming coming out of the Miller School has been noticed by USASBE and its members. In 2021, the Miller School took home USASBE’s Model Emerging Award that celebrates colleges or universities with new or restructured programs, and in 2020 ECU’s RISE29 program was honored for its co-curricular innovation.

“Receiving acknowledgment is great but being good stewards of rural entrepreneurship is important. We realize we have to give back,” Harris said.

Along with the forum and the tour of the Isley Innovation Hub on ECU’s campus in Greenville, the Miller School participated or presented in three breakout sessions on rural entrepreneurship. One was led by the Miller School’s Dr. Dennis Barber III and featured the Miller School-sponsored USASBE Rural Research Fellows. One session looked at rural entrepreneurship education that included Harris. The last session featured Harris and Barber, who discussed how rural entrepreneurship could be an economic driver.

“We want to pay it forward and help other institutions find their identity and grow their programs,” Harris said.

ECU alumnus Fielding Miller ’84, co-founder and CEO of CAPTRUST and the Miller School’s benefactor, is “over the moon” with how much the Miller School has accomplished since its inception in 2015 and how it’s helping to transform eastern North Carolina. Miller, who recently received the John E. Hughes Award for Entrepreneurial Advocacy at the 2022 USASBE conference, likes where the school is headed and the positive impact it is already making in the region.

“It is my belief that the best way to improve the social condition is to create good jobs,” Miller said. “Good jobs equate to good families, good education, good health, a strong sense of purpose and of course, good tax revenues; all of it. Eastern North Carolina has a dearth of good jobs and entrepreneurship is the answer. The Miller School is working hard to build the job creators of the future.

“I could not be more thrilled with the work Mike (Harris) has accomplished since taking the helm. He has the Miller School going in the right direction and headed there in a hurry.”

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