An Ongoing Series Highlighting Delaware Innovators
Dr. Michael Casson knows what it takes to be an innovator. As the dean of Delaware State University’s College of Business, he’s focused on fostering innovative spirit and business savvy among DSU students.
He celebrated his 20th anniversary at DSU in 2022 and currently serves as chair of the expanding Global Institute for Equity Inclusion and Civil Rights; director of the Economic Development and Leadership Institute (EDLI); and director of the University Center for Economic Development and International Trade (UCEDIT) while also continuing to teach economics.
Casson’s research interests include economic development, political economy models and economics of education. He also is a member of the International Economic Development Council, the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce and the University Economic Development Association. In addition, he has been president of his own Casson Analytics consulting firm for nearly 17 years.
Casson earned his bachelor of arts degree in economics from Florida A&M University, his master’s degree in mathematical economics and econometrics from the University of Wisconsin and his doctorate in agricultural and resource economics from the University of Connecticut. With such a pedigree, it’s not surprising that he’s an author. That it’s a children’s book he wrote in 2015 might be surprising. But Enwan the Entrepreneur: Enwan’s First Savings Account does, indeed, continue Casson’s career focus on innovation and a shrewd approach to finances.
Casson talked to Delaware Prosperity Partnership about The Garage, a fully integrated entrepreneurship ecosystem and product ideation laboratory for DSU students, faculty and local community members. The space is equipped to bring new creative ideas and product development from vision to prototypes, offers programs around entrepreneurship and provides resources to grow and sustain new business ideas.
Why is Delaware a great state to be an innovator?
Perhaps there was a time when the definition of an entrepreneur as a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal financial risks to do so, made sense. However, if we are truly committed to the growth and prosperity of all our communities, we must recognize and acknowledge that the success of those that aspire to choose this path requires a community with its own set of cultural values, political frameworks, educational institutions and economic structures that provide an impetus for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Delaware, the “neighbor state,” a place where grassroots-up and top-down movements are essentially one and the same as their starting points are more often than not, next door to each other, inherently embodies the tenets necessary for successful public-private partnerships (PPP). Thus, as Delaware embraces the PPP strategy, we also redefine the word entrepreneurship to reflect the true coordination and collaboration of stakeholders necessary for the success of those that undertake risk for the benefit and development of all our communities. There is no better example of this than The Garage at Delaware State University.
The Garage is DSU’s entrepreneurial, innovation and maker space, and while the name “Garage” is not unique to makerspaces, the meaning for why we named it is. We have all heard the stories of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs getting their starts in “The Garage.” However, as I look at our population of students at Delaware State University, the majority are first-generation college students and, much like myself, never grew up with a garage.
Thus, the psychological side of this may suggest to the youth of our most distressed communities that they could never be the famed entrepreneur that they read about because they don’t have their own garage. But now they have their Garage with a motto that we are “Students of Problems, Not Disciplines.” That implies that your respective discipline is necessary but not sufficient to solve the world’s most challenging problems – therefore you must collaborate across disciplines, across communities. To this end, The Garage is powered by the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These goals introduce a new initial phase of the product development cycle introduced by the Garage – awareness. As we believe that ideation cannot occur absent the understanding of the most pressing challenges facing today’s society.
In your view, what qualities should a successful innovator have?
Innovation begins with awareness. This is why the Garage exposes our community of innovators to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Innovators must allow themselves to be divergent thinkers. Innovators must have the ability to see beyond the limits of a traditionally standardized society. Innovators must not begin with the end in mind, as the old cliché states, as opportunities for innovation are boundless. Rather, begin with future generations in mind by creating a fertile environment for continuous change by future innovators.
What advice would you give innovators just starting?
Find your Garage! Find your community of innovators and divergent thinkers and begin to explore solutions to the world’s challenges.
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