UND student joins prestigious national innovation and entrepreneurship group that puts ideas in motion

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College of Business & Public Administration


University of North Dakota student Benjamin Olson doesn’t sit on an idea long before acting on it.

In fact, it’s hard to find Olson doing much sitting at all. He’s one of the more active students on and off campus with one foot in the classroom and the other firmly planted in the local business community.

Olson’s ambitious knack for innovation and entrepreneurship has earned him a prestigious distinction as one of only 150 University Innovation Fellows in the nation to be selected by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation, known as “Epicenter” for short.

He is the first Innovation Fellow ever from UND, and joins students from 52 other institutions around the country to make up Epicenter’s newest cohort. The Epicenter program is funded by the National Science Foundation and is directed by Stanford University and VentureWell.

Epicenter’s University Fellows advocate for lasting institutional change and create opportunities for students to engage with innovation, entrepreneurship, design-thinking and creativity at their respective schools. They are encouraged to design innovation spaces, start entrepreneurship organizations, host experiential learning events and work with faculty to develop new courses.

Olson, a native of Fargo, is supported by his UND faculty sponsors Timothy O’Keefe, director of the School of Entrepreneurship, part of the College of Business & Public Administration(CoBPA); and Brian Tande, chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering & Mines.

Olson hopes to pursue a MBA/JD at UND and is interested in politics, carpentry and engine mechanics. But his greatest passion is working with people, developing connections and fostering positive relationships.

“I maintain four strategic priorities for my Fellowship,” Olson said. “I strive and love to help students engage in outreach, develop talent, increase collaboration and pursue ventures.”

Olson graduated from Davies High School in Fargo. But even before that, Olson stayed busy with many interests, including competitions in forensics (debate team), choir, theatre arts, business clubs and held jobs as a restaurant worker on the side.

At UND, he’s busy pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration, a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations Communications, a minor in Political Science and certificate in Entrepreneurship Studies. He’s also vice president of public relations with the UND Speech and Debate Team, which seeks to empower students through argument and advocacy. Olson’s hard work on the team enabled him to become a nationally qualified competitor.

Olson also is the treasurer for the CoBPA Student Advisory Council and a coordinator for The Edge, a co-working space located in downtown Grand Forks.

Early this year, Olson was hired by the City of Grand Forks as in intern in the Mayor’s Office, where he spent six months assessing of the entrepreneurship environment in Grand Forks. During this time, he had the opportunity to work with many business and nonprofits within Grand Forks, as well as a student entrepreneur and research teams at the University.

“My experiences at UND have helped me prepare for this because of the support from the School of Entrepreneurship, (CoBPA) Dean (Margaret) Williams, and Bruce Gjovig from the Center for Innovation for giving me all the support needed to pursue my goals,” Olson said.

Olson also is involved with a Grand Forks-based 3D printing and design company called 3C Innovators. Olson and his business partner work directly with clients to turn their ideas into developed prototypes. The main emphasis is working with students at the high school and college level by integrating entrepreneur and design education to provide experiential learning.

“Owning a business wasn’t something that he expected to be doing so early on,” Olson said. “But I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of the business community.”

Olson will be attending a "meet up" with other Fellows from around the nation in March in the Silicon Valley to advance his skills.

“I encourage any student that is looking to be involved in the entrepreneur community, interested in the invention and innovation of products or would like to pursue a startup idea to reach out to me directly,” Olson said.