Lewis Sheats is an entrepreneur and educator. He has identified and developed several unique new ventures from launch to profitability and has both bootstrapped and raised venture funding for several ventures from concept to exit.
He serves as the Assistant Vice Provost for Entrepreneurship and the Executive Director of the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic (“Clinic”), an initiative that exposes students to experiential learning and embeds them in the entrepreneurship community to develop as entrepreneurial thinkers. As a faculty member of the NC State Poole College of Management, he is devoted to preparing the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Lewis is also an award-winning educator who was recently named an Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor by the NC State Alumni Association and the 2015 Dr. John S. Risley Entrepreneur of the Year.
1. What is in your pockets?
I carry a pen everywhere I go. Then my phone. Then in the back of my phone I have my driver’s license and credit card. That’s pretty much the only thing I ever carry with me—I always have a pen.
2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
The biggest thing I can highlight is the Entrepreneurship Garage on Centennial opening up just recently. That’s a huge milestone for NC State to do this public-private partnership. We’re starting to see some true collaboration across the entire campus that has never happened before in entrepreneurship. Things we’ve talked about in the past, but now we’re actually starting to see some action. Partnerships between disciplines where students are working together, partnerships between faculty, where faculty are working across department lines with each other. Those are things that are really making a difference at NC State compared to other universities in entrepreneurship.
We’re taking advantage of our strengths of the STEM University in engineering, design, textiles, agriculture, plant sciences, and then using the strengths of our College of Management and other colleges on campus, by partnering those together. We really are making some heavy steps forward. How do we teach students to think entrepreneurially? How do we get faculty engaged with each other? Then, how do we get students and faculty to work together?
That’s like half the picture, but then you start drilling down to HQ Centennial and then the Garage space. You look at the Andrews Accelerator through the summer. [Editor’s Note: we wrote about the Accelerator in June.] We had the best one we’ve ever had—three successes. We’ve got the largest clinic class we’ve ever had this semester in the HQ Raleigh downtown space. There’s lots of different metrics, but I think overall it’s just a true leap forward in collaboration and working together. I think you’d say it’s the biggest excitement.
3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
I go to 42 & Lawrence the most because it’s convenient and close. But my favorite coffee shop in Raleigh is Yellow Dog, and it’s because they serve the coffee that I can’t get anywhere else called Lamplighter out of Richmond, Va. It is also hard to beat Cup A Joe.
4. What keeps you up at night?
The biggest worry for me is truly getting a full representation among the students in the classroom. That means getting more underrepresented minorities in the classroom and definitely trying to grow our female population in the classroom. It’s changed and we’re moving in that direction, but we’re still not there yet. That’s really my biggest challenge, is how do I make sure that we’re getting the message out to the right groups on campus? Once they get the message, that they feel welcome and they know where to go; and then when they get here, that we’re providing something of value to them.
This is the first year NC State’s freshmen class is more female than male. Also, this year in the College of Engineering, the freshmen incoming class is 30% female. I think the average across the U.S. is like 17%. It’s not just entrepreneurship that we’re thinking this way, it’s the whole university recognizing we’ve got to market better, and then we’ve got to deliver what we say we’re going to deliver to the different groups that we’re trying to get involved.
5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
For happy hour, if I’m in the mood for beer, I go to Brewery Bhavana or Trophy Brewing. For spirits, I am a big fan of the Foundation. For a great glass (or bottle) of wine, of course, I go to Short Walk Wines. [Editor’s Note: Full disclosure—Lewis’ wife, Cindy Sheats, owns Short Walk Wines. But since both are frequent contestants in “Where’s Pete?” it’s all good.]
6. What is next for you or your organization?
What’s next is just expansion for the Clinic. How do we get more disciplines involved? I think from an NC State perspective, it is connecting the dots even more. How do we go from creating some really strong entrepreneurial-minded students to great change-makers? That’s really what’s next. How do we start tackling some bigger problems using entrepreneurship and the strengths of NC State to tackle those problems that exist?
There’s a couple of things in the works in terms of how do we get more students involved with the technology or the inventions that are happening on campus, and how do we get them commercialized. Putting all those pieces together is probably in the near future. I think even bigger-picture is how do we create more of a national brand for NC State Entrepreneurship? We’re getting there, for sure. We have universities reaching out across the U.S. and the world to learn more about what we’re doing. But how do we get to the next next step, which is becoming the change-agent and that leader in entrepreneurship education, so other universities look at us and say that they’re doing this correct. Saying: Let’s do it like them.