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From coffee to classroom: Lipscomb’s College of Business transforms entrepreneurship

At Lipscomb University, The Well Coffeehouse does more than just serve coffee to its community. Founded by the current Director of the Center for Vocational Discovery, Rob Touchstone, it exemplifies how business ventures can extend their impact from local communities to a worldwide mission, and has inspired an innovative academic program for Lipscomb students. 

Since founding The Well in 2012, Touchstone has opened six locations across Nashville. The location, across from Lipscomb’s intramural field, has become a place where students, faculty and community members meet for coffee, work, and occasionally listen to live music. After its establishment, Touchstone wanted The Well’s profits to transition entirely to helping impoverished places around the globe build water wells so the people living in those areas would have sustainable, clean drinking water. 

When asked about the inspiration for starting The Well, Professor Touchstone said, “It was born out of my background with the church; I have a youth ministry background, and I felt really compelled to do something beyond what I had done in the church. What I felt was missing was creating space for people who may not engage with the religious things we do, like at a church building, so I wanted to create a space within the community that would meet people more where they are.” 

Over the past twelve years, The Well has done more than demonstrate that businesses can use their profits to help others; it has inspired the creation of a new program of business study. 

            Business as Mission is a program where students can use their own entrepreneurial ideas and business models to make a difference in their community, both locally and in different parts of the world. They are taught to have their business aspirations grounded in faith, showing through hands-on projects and the creation of micro-businesses that they have the capability to utilize entrepreneurship to impact others positively. It is similar to other programs offered at other universities, but the main distinction that Lipscomb brings to the table is the emphasis on spreading the Christian mission. 

In 2014, Touchstone, while teaching as a Lipscomb adjunct Bible professor, was invited to talk at a College of Business chapel about The Well. After the talk he spoke to Ray Eldridge, the Dean of the College of Business, who invited him to create The Center of Business as Missions to help students do what he did with his coffee shops, using business to help a specific cause. From January 2015 forward, Touchstone was enabled by the College of Business to create and tailor the Business as Mission program to what is today. 

            The program inspired change in the Intro to Business class by encouraging students to use business to do good in the world. For the past nine years, the Business as Mission program has been intertwined with the Intro to Business class. Part of the curriculum requires that students create micro-businesses and give their profits to a charitable cause to emulate the same notion that inspired Touchstone to create The Well. This eventually led to a fellowship being created for students to take a deeper dive into purposeful business. Lipscomb also adopted a business as a mission minor that students can add to their degree. In addition, Touchstone helped students create business accelerators (programs designed to help startups scale quickly) so they could use what they had learned to serve in their communities and globally.

Speaking on the topic of creating business accelerators with students, Touchstone said, “Students who had taken Intro to Business were invited to create a little business accelerator for aspiring entrepreneurs in the community who didn’t have access to education.” He went on to say, “I worked with undergrad students to create these business accelerators, especially for people getting out of prison or that didn’t have the ability to afford college, and so we ran these business accelerators and then awarded startup capital prizes, so sometimes the money in the class went to prize money for these underserved entrepreneurs, which was a really cool part of it.” 

The Business as Mission program has strived to give aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners a chance to get a glimpse into the field they’re entering before they graduate. This has given them real hands-on experience, raised thousands of dollars for charitable causes with their micro-businesses, and helped people who did not have the opportunities some students had to give back to their community.

Reece Collie, an Entrepreneurship and Management double major from Ashville, North Carolina, is also minoring in Business as Mission. When asked about his overall experience and favorite aspect of his minor, he said, “I appreciate the mindset shift of the purpose of business and that we’re not just looking to create monetary value in business. We’re more trying to focus on creating value for all different areas (people around you, community, employees) while also still creating monetary value.” He then said, “Being an entrepreneurship major and planning on creating different businesses in the future, I would like to be a business owner and an entrepreneur myself, and so it excites me to look at how I can incorporate these different values of value creation for everyone around me and not just for my monetary gain.” 

From the initial creation of The Well, the overarching message has been to help people in need and create an awareness in the community that businesses can be used for a greater cause other than just making a profit. Not only has The Well sought to uphold this mission, but it has also crafted opportunities for students to understand the fundamentals of how businesses affect the world.

Feature photo courtesy of Kristi Jones