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New fellowship program promotes undergraduate entrepreneurship

Five students selected for inaugural Little Joe Ventures Fellowship Program in Entrepreneurship

Five students have been selected for the Little Joe Ventures Fellowship Program in Entrepreneurship, a new initiative at Northwestern University that supports entrepreneurial innovation at the undergraduate level. 

Made possible by a gift from alumnus Tony Owen ’97, ’03 MBA and Monique Owen, the fellowship program is designed to arm students with the skills they need to be successful in their ventures and in life and to provide a support network of like-minded entrepreneurial thinkers.

"Thanks to technology, the barriers to start a business are lower than they’ve ever been," Tony Owen said. "That has created a fertile ground for students, at a younger age, to pursue their passions. These fellowships provide an avenue for them to begin to put those ideas in motion."

A faculty and staff committee will select undergraduate fellows each year. Applications for the next class of fellows will be posted online during spring quarter 2018. Fellows will be announced by the beginning of spring quarter 2019.

Inaugural 2018 Little Joe Ventures fellows:

  • Vishaal Mali – McCormick School of Engineering 20
  • Sam Kim – Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences 20
  • Rachel Cantor – School of Communication 20
  • Drake Weissman – Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences 20
  • Audrey Valbuena – Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications 20 

Four key components of the fellowship 

  • Training: Alumni or business mentors and Northwestern faculty members will lead all fellows in workshops focused on building entrepreneurial character and will provide the fellows an entrepreneurial toolbox with key skills needed in their future pursuits.
  • Internship: Fellows will receive a stipend for entrepreneurial endeavors to spend two summers working on their own startup or at a selected startup company.
  • Original work: Fellows also will have the opportunity to pitch their own ideas for startups and will receive funding and mentoring to support their missions.
  • Community building: Networking is a vital component of entrepreneurship, and the Little Joe Ventures Fellowship Program aims to strengthen the bonds among the many entrepreneurial units at Northwestern. Fellows will participate in monthly and annual gatherings at Northwestern’s Evanston or San Francisco campuses with current fellows, past fellows, mentors and alumni. 

Tony and Monique Owen
Tony and Monique Owen

Tony Owen earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematical methods in the social sciences and in economics from Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in 1997 and his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management in 2003. He is a global business development and venture capital leader with more than 20 years of experience working with leading entrepreneurs identifying, building and growing emerging brands primarily in the consumer and restaurant sectors, including Frontera and Freshii.

Monique Owen, who grew up and attended university in Australia, spent 10 years working in human resources for a global public accounting firm before attending Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. She now works as a travel advisor at Huffman Travel, exploring her passions of food and travel. Owen is a member of the Victoria Racing Club and the Melbourne Cricket club in Melbourne, Australia, and she is a board member of the Getty Research Institute Collections Council and of ESMoA, an “art laboratory” in El Segundo, California. 

The story behind “Little Joe”

Woman with cowThe inspiration for the name of Little Joe Ventures Fellowship Program in Entrepreneurship comes from an unusual source – a cow.

Tony Owen’s mother grew up in the Chicago suburb of Elgin, which was then a somewhat agricultural community. Little Joe was the name of her award-winning 4-H cow, which was an influential character and source of pride during her teenage years. 

In the context of the fellowship, the story of Little Joe represents the value of pursuing unconventional paths, seeing opportunities where others don’t and looking where others are not looking, Owen said.

“The name also signifies the importance in business of getting to know people at a meaningful level – understanding what makes them who they are,” he added. “A lot of people didn’t know about my mom’s farm life. Even though it was an important aspect of her youth, you had to take the time to get to know her to hear the story of Little Joe.”

It is not the first time Owen has drawn upon his family history to develop a value story for a business and a name. Tony Owen founded an investment company that supports entrepreneurs in emerging, customer-facing food businesses. The name, DOM Capital Group, derives from Dominick’s Finer Foods, the long-running Chicago-based supermarket chain founded by his grandfather, Dominick DiMatteo. Tony built this business along with his brother, alumnus Jay Owen ’94, ’03 MBA.