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Ohio Christian Sees Startup Center as 'Front Door' for Business Community image

By Emily Bench, Staff reporter, Columbus Business First

John Kulaga sees Ohio Christian University as an important partner in Pickaway County’s educational and economic development efforts.

Kulaga, president of the Circleville school since last year, said to reach not only the school's business students but also the community at large, Ohio Christian last August launched the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center.

"We are a great front door for anyone who wants to do business here," he said.

"The 22,000-square-foot, collaborative space is very much community endeavor," Kulaga said. "The idea is that we’d have not only entrepreneurs setting up shop there, but also have them pour into the community members here."

The university donated land for the $10 million center, which provides incubator space for startup businesses and serves as a job-creation and workforce development hub for the community and also houses the School of Business & Government.

"Of our 59 different programs, the school of business is our largest," he said. Around 1,200 students are enrolled in the school.

On Nov. 3, the center is hosting a free event open to entrepreneurs and anyone who wants to launch their own business. It will be held in collaboration with a Christian networking group and the Dublin Entrepreneurial Center. (To find out more and to sign up, click here.)

"In 2013, it was the dream of OCU to spearhead an initiative that would serve our economically oppressed area – an initiative that would create new jobs and businesses here," said Craig Brown, vice president of entrepreneurship for Ohio Christian. "Our center was born out of that vision. Now, this conference will inspire people to make ideas a reality; we expect great participation."

Rob Kopp, the chief operating officer for Metro Data Center, is one of the keynote speakers at the event. He said that this will create exactly what is needed in the area – business development from leaders as well as students.

"I’ve experienced a lot of students with a startup desire," he told me. "When I was in college, I hadn't even heard of that word. Now, OCU offers its own (minor) in it – it's evolving."

When Kulaga took the helm as president last year, there were big shoes to fill. Kulaga's predecessor, Mark Smith, in 11 years as president had grown the small bible college in Circleville from 400 to 4,600 students. The private school was struggling to make payroll and in financial distress when he took over. He's credited with increasing employment from 500 to 800, launching online programs, and directing millions in capital construction projects.

Kulaga said that growth has continued over the past year. Enrollment remains at around 4,000 students, the operating budget of $42 million has held steady and $30 million in construction endeavors are underway.

"We are focused on not just getting not just bigger, but better," he told me. "We want enrollment growth, but we also want retention and graduation rates to go up.

"Access to education is great, but not if you don't complete it."

Before student aid and scholarships, tuition at Ohio Christian University is $22,000.

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