By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Tim Kelley is all about entrepreneurship, all the time. So when he hired Grand Canyon University senior Abenezer Gebrehiwot to be the first Executive Manager for his Canyon Angels investment group, it wasn’t long before Kelley’s entrepreneurial spirit rubbed off.
Or maybe Gebrehiwot already had it … which is why Kelley is applauding so loudly.
Even though it’s summer break, even though other students are not available to help, and even though Gebrehiwot is new on the job, he came to Kelley, Assistant Professor for Economics and Entrepreneurship in the Colangelo College of Business (CCOB), with a capital idea.
He wanted to organize an online event with the Texas-based TEN Capital Network investor group.
“He said, ‘Hey, let’s just do it and get deal flow for our members. Even though we’re not doing due diligence on the companies, at least it’s deal flow for our members and keeps us active, serving and bringing the trainings,’” Kelley recalled.
Being a can-do kind of guy, Kelley quickly consented. But he also instills that can-do attitude in students, so the online event became Gebrehiwot’s baby. “Let’s do it” meant Gebrehiwot did it – which he truly appreciates.
“He’s the type of boss who gives you all the resources and says, ‘Here, you can learn by yourself,’” Gebrehiwot said. “He doesn’t micromanage me – that’s one of the greatest things that I admire about him.
“He gave me all the responsibilities – I mean, real investments with real money – and I get to have real hands-on opportunities. Every time I go into his office, I always learn something new. I don’t have any business background, but I’ve learned a lot just by going into his office and asking him.”
There’s the other important aspect to this learn-by-doing story: Gebrehiwot’s major is IT/cybersecurity in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET). And yet he was chosen for the business-oriented job, made possible by a three-year, $300,000 grant from Seed Spot, a private business accelerator, because of his overall qualifications.
His hiring also is a direct result of Kelley’s efforts, nearly a decade in the making, to integrate the entrepreneurial mindset into all students across the GCU campus.
Particularly notable has been his collaboration with CSET. For example, engineering major Erik Yost is President of CCOB’s IDEA Club.
“Abenezer is the right student at the right time to move the business-technology partnership forward,” said Dr. Randy Gibb, the CCOB dean. “These developments are the result of our faculty working together for the benefit of students, regardless of their college and/or major. Dr. Mark Wooden (CSET dean) and his team have been very supportive in finding more touchpoints between the colleges. We are excited for the coming year!”
The new position has Gebrehiwot, who is doing an internship with IBM this summer, looking at the business world in new ways. He was one of 150 students chosen out of 6,000 applicants.
“Now I started thinking, ‘What if I had an IT company? How can I make more money instead of working for people the rest of my life?’” he said. “It’s great to get the opportunity with IBM, but ultimately I’d like to be an entrepreneur, and he (Kelley) has a lot of that experience that I can convert into my life.”
Kelley has had a strong working relationship with Seed Spot for years, which is why the startup mentor came to him with the idea. The goal of the grant is to increase early stage investing across the country.
“They said, ‘We’d like to team up with you because that’s what you do in Canyon Angels. Why don’t we partner with you, you help with the content and trainings, and we’ll organize all this stuff with the government, assist with the content and help expand the network, and see if we can’t recruit more minorities and women into angel investing,’” Kelley said.
It fit perfectly with the way he rolls. When Kelley isn’t zipping around campus on his electric skateboard, he’s moving in the flow of technology and opportunity and showing students how it’s done.
He talks about how technological advancements have doubled every 18 months, going back centuries or even millennia. It’s important for students to understand that.
“We start off every class looking at new technologies,” he said. “How do they understand this hype cycle of innovation that’s growing on an exponential curve? We’re not designed, as humans, to grasp an exponential curve. We’ve evolved on a linear basis to save ourselves from the tiger that was going to eat us.”
Kelley is fascinated by the way those technologies affect his own life daily. He switched to a Tesla, for example, because of the technology.
“My car drives itself well,” he said. “I hop on the freeway, as soon as I get on the on ramp I turn it on. It merges, and it switches lanes – it asks for permission to switch lanes, which is annoying. But it does it perfectly. It’s amazing. It’s absolutely amazing.”
His recent talk to the Arizona Association of Superintendents focused on how education is and will be disrupted by technology, particularly passive-vision artificial intelligence.
“Every year I give a talk about advancing technologies and how technologies are converging. Get ready for disruption,” he said.
“I showed the superintendents a chip with a trillion transistors on it. It’s running a trillion transactions a second. Passive vision AI sees the world just like we do. This just began 6-7 years ago when we started to understand graphics manipulation. Tesla technology coming out in a few months will change the world.”
But Kelley also wants to change the world of students who come under his tutelage. Students like Gebrehiwot.
Five years ago, Gebrehiwot came to the United States from his native Ethiopia and settled in Maryland. One day, he was on YouTube when he saw an ad for GCU. He filled out an application and was stunned when a University representative called and offered him an all-expenses-paid Discover GCU trip to Phoenix.
“What’s going to go wrong with a free trip to Arizona?” he thought.
Then he saw the campus and thought it looked like a resort. Three years later, he’s thankful that the decision was such a no-brainer. He enjoys intramural sports and will be a head life leader this year.
“My college experience would not have been the same if I had not gone to GCU,” he said.
Nor would it have been the same if he hadn’t gotten hired by Tim Kelley.
“I think God placed me at GCU to learn a lot in the community,” he said. “Other schools, you have to be a business major to get involved in business. I’m an IT student, pure technical, and he gave me an opportunity to learn and even run it.”
It’s just how Kelley rolls. The students who get on board are in for the ride of their educational lives.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].