By Matt Watson
Get good grades. Go to college. Get a 9-to-5 job, then work your way to the top.
For some, that’s the conventional way to success, the linear climb up the career ladder. For others such as Collin Caffrey, a 2013 alumnus of the aviation management program at Metropolitan State University of Denver, it’s less about climbing and more about building your own ladder.
In June, Caffrey founded a drone-charter company called Angel Hawk that offers aerial videography and consultation for any number of industries, such as agriculture, real estate, weddings and emergency services. He’s still working a day job part-time, selling private jet charters for Mayo Aviation out of Centennial Airport, but his company has already taken projects all over central Colorado, and his volunteer work with drones has landed on the local news.
Caffrey is a part of the all-volunteer Douglas County Search and Rescue team, which helped find two lost hikers in June by flying a drone over Pike National Forest.
“That was one of the first in-state scenarios where a drone had located missing hikers. We used a cellphone ping to find out where they were, then flew the drone overhead to pinpoint where the hikers were,” Caffrey said. “There are a lot of commercial uses for drones, but being able to save a life is something that’s really impactful. That’s where my passion lies and where I hope to take the company.”
Caffrey was recently approached by a local police department about training officers to use drones, and he hopes to eventually design a drone with thermal imaging to help locate people trapped in avalanches.
As great as it sounds to merge your personal passion with your professional endeavors, it wasn’t necessarily an easy path for Caffrey, who saw his plan to join the Air Force fall through just before graduation. Instead, he found an unrelated entry-level job out of college, directed himself back into aviation, then worked his way up and got laid off from another company. That’s when he decided to fall back on experience he got from a small business management course at MSU Denver and create his own career.
“I always had an interest in entrepreneurship, and I actually started a lawn-mowing company in high school with two of my buddies. ... It always intrigued me to be able to start a business and earn a living from that, calling your own shots,” Caffrey said. “At the time of taking the class, I was steering more toward the military and didn’t think I would ever start a business in the near future.
“After that all fell through, I was really grateful for the skills that course had given me because I was using skills that I didn’t really anticipate needing on such short notice.”
Caffrey has plenty of company in having to find his own path in today’s workforce. The financial company Intuit, which has a unique view of the job market through its popular tax application TurboTax, estimates that 34 percent of Americans are self-employed or freelance in some capacity. Intuit projects that number to grow to 43 percent by 2020.
To better prepare Roadrunners for the road ahead, the Department of Management in the College of Business began offering an entrepreneurship major in fall 2016, which has more than 150 current enrollees. The Management Department also offers an 18-hour entrepreneurship minor, and for students who can’t commit that time there are three courses suggested for nonbusiness majors who want a leg up on the job market, no matter their major.
Along with the small business management course that Caffrey took, the Department of Management offers an introduction to business class and a junior-level entrepreneurship class for any student with an enterprising spirit and an interest in business savvy.
“What you can’t teach is creativity and innovation. You can teach people how to run a business better. That comes from knowledge about laws, accounting, marketing, managing people and human resources,” said Debbie Gilliard, chair of the Management Department. “The classroom makes better entrepreneurs with a higher opportunity for success.”
Entrepreneurship, one of MSU Denver’s core values, certainly isn’t limited to business classrooms or classrooms at all. Lynn Hoffman, the faculty entrepreneurship program director, is working to implement an entrepreneurial curriculum in a diverse range of classrooms, such as a partnership with the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication.
“Most of those young students are not going out and getting a job with the Denver Post, the Washington Post, the Economist – they’re freelancing. That’s an example of incorporating curriculum and helping their students find better career paths,” Hoffman said.
The Department of Management also promotes entrepreneurship through events and trainings, such as a free interactive seminar in the Center for Advanced Visualization and Experiential Analysis last week featuring Gary Schoeniger, founder of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative. MSU Denver hosted an event for Denver Startup Week this week featuring faculty member Nina Radojevich-Kelley, Ph.D., as a panelist, and in the spring the Management Department will welcome its 10th annual executive-on-campus to deliver a keynote, speak to classes and spend time with faculty and students.
On top of that, the University just received a $1.5 million gift from The Carter Community Trust, UMB Bank, n.a., Trustee; and W T Kemper Charitable Trust, UMB Bank, n.a., Trustee; to endow a College of Business chair for entrepreneurial studies.
“The idea is to be all across campus,” Hoffman said. “We’re having some pretty good success.”
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