Ted Zoller is T.W. Lewis Distinguished Clinical Scholar and Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Zoller also serves as senior fellow at the Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils and a senior consultant to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation engaged in core strategies of the foundation in the area of entrepreneurship, where he previously served as Vice President and Senior Fellow. Dr. Zoller is an active practicing entrepreneur.
Dr. Zoller has taught entrepreneurship courses in the MBA, BSBA, MBA for Executives, MBA@UNC, and UNC-Tsinghua programs at UNC Kenan-Flagler since 1998. He is a liaison for the business school to UNC’s university-wide Innovate@Carolina initiative and to partners in the Research Triangle Park entrepreneurial community. He holds a PhD from UNC-Chapel Hill, master’s degrees from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and the University of Virginia focusing on entrepreneurship and economic development, and a dual bachelor’s degree from the College of William & Mary.
- What is in your pockets?
I have a multi tool attached to my key ring because I’m a pragmatic utilitarian who loves to fix things.
I also carry around this challenge coin that was minted by Carolina for an apprenticeship program that I started about five years ago to support the next generation of entrepreneurs. The apprenticeship pairs senior people in our alumni with junior people who are coming up, mostly students who want to make the transition to entrepreneurship. Part of the apprenticeship network is actually breaking down the barriers to helping accelerate their path and transition into entrepreneurship and that’s something I take very seriously in my life. I believe that our responsibility now that we have resources and credibility is to open it up to the next generation so that they can advance their careers. I’m very proud to carry this apprenticeship challenge coin in my pocket.
- What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
I’m in the process right now of writing an eye-opening book. I don’t know if you remember this book, The Millionaire Next Door. It was famous back in the ’80s and ’90s, and then another book came out by Angela Duckworth that’s called Grit. I put those two things together in my mind and I said, “We’re missing the point. It’s not about money. It’s not about just grit.” I would submit to you that grit is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for entrepreneurship. I’m writing a book called Gumption and I’m going to recover that word—”gumption.” That word means kind of a mix of being highly pragmatic and a bit willing to put yourself out there; eccentric. It’s the person who dares themselves to do something that they wouldn’t otherwise do. It’s making yourself vulnerable, taking risk.
As a society, we’re not celebrating risk-taking. And I’m curating: what is gumption, where do you find it? Entrepreneurship is actually something that’s next door, like The Millionaire Next Door. It’s the entrepreneur next door. They’re everywhere. They’re not in Silicon Valley. They’re not on Sand Hill Road. That’s just where people are financed. Entrepreneurship is literally everywhere and it is something that’s unique in the American spirit and American psyche because Americans have been given economic freedom, [though] that word has been bandied around in an awkward way.
We’re doing our longitudinal research project to identify this function of gumption in the decision point of an entrepreneur journey and then we are curating hundreds of stories of gumption from people that you would least expect. I’m democratizing entrepreneurship. It’s going to be a good book first, but it’s not about me at all. What I want to do is curate a movement of people who want to dare themselves.
- What is your favorite coffee spot?
I’m really excited about one new coffee shop called The PITCH on Franklin Street. Mike Griffin is a serial entrepreneur and one of UNC’s famous alumni who recently bought the Peoples Improv Theater on West Franklin. It’s called The PIT and he renamed it The PITCH and it has a coffee shop in the front and a performance venue out back. It is a place where entrepreneurs will congregate.
- What keeps you up at night?
Our country has lost its view on the importance of value-add and making things, and I’m very concerned that we’ve outsourced a lot of our innovation, and we need to reverse those trends dramatically. People feel as if they’re very separated from the unit of production.
What really concerns me is that we’re becoming overly financialized as an economy, and I’m worried that we’re not focusing on our value-add. It means on-shoring manufacturing again, but that’s just one part of it. It’s actually helping people who want to create and build things, inventors, innovators to do that work. I’m seeing it more and more done elsewhere and not done here, which is really frightening. We really need to do what we can to beef American innovation and value-add.
- What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
There’s a little restaurant called Margaret’s [Cantina] in North Chapel Hill. I feel very at home there and they’ve got a nice little bar and oftentimes you see people that I know from my work and it’s just a great community of people. I enjoy going to Margaret’s.
- What is next for you or your organization?
I see that the kids coming up today are really interested in social change. They want to have a meaning connected to entrepreneurship and it’s not something that’s coming from the professors or from the institution, it’s coming from the kids. The kids really want to see businesses that have social responsibility.
The second thing that I’m seeing is that most of them are activated to try to fix some things that our society they want to see fixed. So, they’re really motivated not just by their own material advancement, but they’re motivated by their mission. We’re going through a bit of a sea change with this next generation. I’m very optimistic about the future because our society will be all about making positive change. They’re serious. It is a powerful network of young people coming up, so buckle in.