William and Mary, Ferguson announce innovation and entrepreneurship partnership

aheymann@vagazette.com

Ferguson Enterprises will join forces with the Alan B. Miller Entrepreneurship Center and the Raymond A. Mason School of Business to try to solve an issue plaguing the construction industry.

“Would it excite you, students, if I told you that you would have the opportunity to potentially change an entire industry? Would that be something you would be potentially excited to do?” asked Graham Henshaw, executive director of the Entrepreneurship Center, at Friday’s announcement.

The College of William and Mary and Ferguson Enterprises announced a partnership between the two organizations as they created the Ferguson Innovation Challenge on Oct. 26.

Teams of 4-6 students from both graduate and undergraduate schools and different majors will work together to solve what Ferguson believes to be a major issue facing the industry: How to maximize the amount of time contracted construction workforces are doing billable work.

Is it a lack of preparation before going to the site? Not enough skilled laborers? Teams will have to find out what they believe the issue is and find a way to solve it.

“(The Ferguson Innovation Challenge) is not about a fictitious case study that (Ferguson) is interested in, it is a real problem that matters now,” Henshaw said. “This is a real problem in the construction industry.”

Henshaw said the Ferguson Innovation Challenge will take place during the upcoming spring semester.

Henshaw said students may only work a couple hours a week at the beginning of the program when they start research, but by the end, they may be working 7-10 hours a week interviewing customers and going to on-site situations.

Henshaw said each team will be given seed funding for their research. This is because teams will need to go out, test their ideas and build prototypes. The more academically diverse the team the more seed funding they can receive, up to $1,500, according to Henshaw.

In addition to help with funding, Henshaw said students also will have access to five Ferguson Ventures employees who will help mentor and guide the students with their projects.

At the end of the challenge, students will have the chance to win prize money and change an entire industry. There is a third opportunity they could be offered as well: a summer internship with Ferguson Enterprises.

Mike Brooks, chief marketing officer for Ferguson Enterprises, said he and Henshaw had been thinking about how to create a win-win partnership for the students and company for more than a year.

“This for us is just natural,” Brooks said. “William and Mary is right in our backyard, it's a fantastic school, fantastic student population, and our need is really well defined.”

Want to learn more?

To learn more about the Ferguson Innovation Challenge, visit millercenter.mason.wm.edu/About Ferguson.

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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