WILKES-BARRE — The Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship was established at Wilkes University 25 years ago to educate and encourage young people with vision and ambition to launch and run the businesses of the future.

Twenty-five years later, that mission continues and has been expanded.

The center will officially celebrate its 25th anniversary Nov. 16 with a dinner at the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre.

Prior to that, the center will host a lecture Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. at Wyoming Seminary’s Kirby Center for Creative Arts in Kingston with Jack Wood, co-founder and CEO of Team Rubicon, a nonprofit organization that trains and deploys military veterans to disaster zones in the U.S. and around the world. The lecture is free and open to the public.

The center was established in 1993 by Allan P. Kirby Jr., a member of the Wilkes board of trustees. He made a gift in honor of his father, Allan Price Kirby, former chairman of the Alleghany Corp., the holding company that controlled the New York Central Railroad until its merger into the Pennsylvania Railroad. His grandfather was Fred M. Kirby, co-founder of the Woolworth’s chain and a pioneer in the “five-and-dime” retail industry.

Dr. Rodney Ridley, who was named executive director of the Allan P. Kirby Center in 2014, said the Kirby family has done very well with entrepreneurship and free enterprise and their goal in establishing the center was to make sure that the benefits of practicing these concepts “both academically and practically are not lost.”

“They wanted to establish a way of making sure the foundations of that which benefited their family are not lost but would benefit generations to come,” Ridley said.

Over the last 25 years, the center has evolved and these concepts have not been lost but they have been expanded upon.

The center has become a force for business development in the region, connecting students to businesses and industries in Northeast Pennsylvania.

“We want to help entrepreneurs go from an epiphany to actually having something on the shelf at Walmart,” Ridley said. “We actually have the capabilities to help you go through that process and mentor you all the way through.”

Ridley has expanded the offerings at the Allan P. Kirby Center including establishing a business incubator above the Small Business Development Center in Wilkes-Barre, which includes anchor tenants and student businesses.

The Allan P. Kirby Center continues to offer students courses in entrepreneurship and also partners with entities such as tecBRIDGE , Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the Wilkes University Small Business Development Center and Family Business Alliance. The center offers students internships and hands-on real world experience and sponsors seminars and programs.

“We were one of the early places that had a degree in entrepreneurship,” Ridley said. “We have a very unique curriculum in entrepreneurship. We also have a master’s degree in it.”

Ridley, who formerly was director of Wilkes University’s division of engineering and physics, said his goal when he became executive director was to move from not only teaching students entrepreneurship but to get them practicing it and to get products into markets.

He said the education continues but the goal now is to “spread across the curriculum, the entire university and across the region and we’re also aiming to spread it across the world.”

From 2017-2018, 24 businesses received support from the Allan P. Kirby Center and 15 of those businesses were started by Wilkes University students.

Businesses included RAE Sleeves started by Michelle Lehman, who is now a graduate student at Wilkes University’s Jay S. Sidhu School of Business and Leadership, a graduate assistant at the Allan P. Kirby Center and a Kirby scholar.

Lehman, 22, earned $10,000 to start her own business as well as $100,000 of in-kind services when she won tecBRIDGE’s business plan competition earlier this year.

Her business designs sheer fashion accessory sleeves that women can wear under sleeveless tops and dresses. She said she is looking into having them manufactured in Wilkes-Barre, Allentown or North Carolina or all three places.

She said the mentoring culture at the Allan P. Kirby Center and Ridley and staff inspired her to become an entrepreneur. The staff introduced her to people and provided experiential learning opportunities that helped her start her own business, she said. As a Kirby scholar, she had the opportunity to travel to Ireland and meet a fashion designer, she said.

The Kirby Scholars program provides Wilkes undergraduate and graduate students with hands-on experience in their chosen discipline while serving as a resource for businesses at the Wilkes Enterprise Center. Ridley said the program is a “model for how we deliver experiential opportunities in education for students.”

The Allan P. Kirby Center also was instrumental in founding Wilkes-Barre Connect with the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, an initiative aimed at fostering entrepreneurship in the region.

In the future, Ridley said he believes life sciences could reshape the Allan P. Kirby Center and the region.

“We have all the things locally to be a very strong player in life sciences innovations and life sciences commercialization,” he said. “If we could do that, what was once a coal region could become a life sciences region.”

Contact the writer: [email protected], 570-821-2115, @CVAllabaugh on Twitter

Source: The Associated Press

Sign up to receive our latest news!

By submitting this form, I agree to the terms.