Starting in 2015, Grove City College and Praxis Labs partnered together to redefine innovation through the lens of Christianity. Praxis is a venture group that works with Christian entrepreneurs to create kingdom impact through business startups. The accelerators at Praxis have worked with 130 entrepreneurs, created 2,500 jobs, and made over $130 million in revenue. Praxis is concerned with causing a spiritual and cultural change within the scope of business. Both Grove City College’s Entrepreneurship Program and Praxis have a mission to connect creativity to achieve Christ’s calling. The two groups have integrated to bring Grove City College’s entrepreneurs a whole new perspective when interacting with business and mission.
Jon Hart, a partner at Praxis, stated “Praxis Academy is thrilled to partner with Grove City College. We hope to see a generation of students serious about their Christian faith create entrepreneurial solutions to some of our world’s biggest problems, and know this aligns with the vision of Grove City. We’re excited to work together, and to see some of their brightest students contribute to the larger community of next generation entrepreneurs in the Praxis Academy community.”
“Our relationship with Praxis has evolved over the past couple of years,” Yvonne English ’97, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation (E+I), said. “We started by sending a group of students to the summer Praxis Academy in 2015. Our students raved so much about their experience that we explored a deeper connection with the organization.”
Indeed, the partnership between Praxis and Grove City College has grown significantly over the last few years. After sending students to the Annual Gathering at Praxis in 2015, Grove City and Praxis have offered a day-long workshop at the Grove City Campus, exchanged ideas at numerous Annual Gatherings, and combined talents in the Emerging Founders program. Most recently, Hannah Vaccaro ’18 and recent graduate Ross Harrington ’17 have worked alongside Praxis to launch their product PeeWee Packs, a potty training tool that reveals colors and designs to entertain kids and make the teaching process easier for parents and caregivers.
According to Professor Sweet, Chair of Grove City College Department of Entrepreneurship, the relationship between Praxis and Grove City College is important because “they share the same values in entrepreneurship and faith-minded business. Both ask the same questions: How can entrepreneurs find their calling through entrepreneurial ventures? Most importantly, Praxis and Grove City College believe in doing all things for the sake of Christ. This distinguishes us (Grove City College) as a college. We believe that God calls us to make a difference for the sake of the kingdom. That also is what makes Praxis so unique.”
As the future approaches quickly, GCC and Praxis plan to continue their partnership and make the entrepreneur the cause of positive change in the world.
The Praxis Workshop at GCC:
Grove City College had the exciting opportunity to work with Praxis during an on-campus entrepreneurial workshop on April 22,2017. This event connected many Grove City College students with some of the partners that work with Praxis. Nonprofits and for-profits alike presented their businesses in Sticht Lecture Hall and focused on incorporating higher biblical calling into business ventures. Even though some of the lecturers were not upfront “Christian” nonprofits, all of the speakers spoke about integrating faith into the workplace of a high-growth startup. Speakers include Ben and Laura Harrison (co-founders of Jonas Paul Eyewear), Jessica Kim (Founder of BabbCo and EIR at Charles River Ventures), and Jon Hart (a partner of Praxis). Many of these speakers have worked with Grove City College students in the Emerging Founders programs, and have guided many entrepreneurial breakthroughs. The workshop was a direct way to connect the two partners.
The Praxis workshop was a huge success. Many students, of all majors, attended the four-hour long event along with professors, alumni, and prospective students. Ross Harrington, an attendee of the workshop, mentioned that “the event will give a great perspective on what living out your faith in business looks like. It will also inspire your entrepreneurial spirit.” Like Harrington, many other spectators were impressed with the workshop. Every student that responded to the event survey said that the workshop was “very good, very organized, and very helpful.”
It is our hope that the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Grove City College will continue this program and continue to submerge the student body into the culture of faith-minded entrepreneurship that Praxis encompasses.
The Annual Gathering:
Every year, Praxis hosts a gathering for “The Annual Gathering,” also known as the Praxis Academy. This event is for current undergraduates or recent graduates who have an entrepreneurial heart and mind and are interested in exploring how to embody the Gospel in all aspects of life, especially in business. The goal of the program is to provide participants with the vision, knowledge, relationships, and opportunities needed to begin a career in kingdom-minded businesses, nonprofits, and social enterprises.
At this program, Praxis provides Christian leaders who speak about changing the culture of God’s creation through entrepreneurship. In addition, the academy also builds a network of peers who have the same vision of impact, grants access to Praxis ’ materials on building organizations, and allows interaction with many business leaders who integrate God’s calling with organizations.
Timothy Sweet, Chair of the Department of Entrepreneurship at Grove City College, says students who attended the Praxis Academy “come out with a much better sense of mission and calling. They realize that entrepreneurship is a pathway to kingdom impact.” Timothy Sweet has been working alongside Praxis for a few years now, and has taken many students to the Annual Gathering. “Praxis is an unprecedented opportunity to learn about how entrepreneurs can use their gifts for Christ. That to me is invaluable.”
Andrew Graber, Maverick Dickson, and Rachel Smith are all Grove City College students who experienced the Praxis Academy last July at Biola University in Los Angeles, California. There were about 200 students who attended, along with 20 different speakers who focused their discussions on “redemptive entrepreneurship.” All three of these students were extremely impressed with the Praxis program. When asked about the program Graber said, “Praxis is unique because I haven’t seen people talk so openly about business and Christian faith together, at the same time. Usually when you attend a conference, it is solely focused on one or another.” He also mentioned how all of the business speakers believed that faith made it possible for their businesses to thrive. “Praxis cemented in my mind that I need to incorporate my faith into whatever I do. Some people say that’s not possible, but at this program, I’ve seen people who did that.”
Maverick Dickson, a sophomore at GCC, agreed with Andrew. “I learned from Praxis that you can’t just take what you learned and sit with it. We have to go out into the world and run with it for the glory of God.” Even though Maverick is a Political Science major, he feels that he really connected to the program, especially with the group conversations that were centered around faith. Rachel Smith, another student who went to the program, says that the best way to implement Praxis’ lessons is to “do excellent work that helps the kingdom of God but is still efficient and good.”
So, what does an average day at the Praxis Academy look like? At Praxis, after getting breakfast, the students experience a worship and prayer service. This summer, the Praxis Academy had the honor of having the Brilliance lead worship. After the service, students attend a lecture session, called a “Plenary,” which features many different speakers. Some of these leaders started their businesses from Praxis accelerators, others were mentors at Praxis, and there were also guest speakers who have experienced success in redemptive entrepreneurship. Last year, Praxis had New York City Pastor Tim Keller speak, who is well-known for his innovative church and has written many books on theology. After the lectures, the students get lunch. According to Rachel Smith, this was one of the most exciting parts of Praxis. During meals, there are many meaningful conversations that connect many different people who have the same goals and vision for their lives. “I loved the unfiltered conversations at lunch,” Smith said. “It was amazing being able to speak to a diverse group of people who had many different perspective and ideas, but shared the same passion for the rest of our lives: redemptive entrepreneurship.” Students from all over the country attend the program and offer many different skills and opinions about how to solve problems, but in the end they all want to serve the kingdom of God. After lunch, students are divided into groups to have discussions with speakers and are offered the opportunity to ask questions. For the rest of the day, events are set up to promote community and collaboration. Games, Ultimate Frisbee, and other group-centered activities are given to students so that they can connect. This time is also used for self-reflection and enjoyment.
Praxis Academy is an amazing opportunity to develop skills as an entrepreneur and use those skills as a Christian. The Praxis Academy will be held on July 30-August 2 of this year. The applications open January 16, 2018. Because Grove City College is a partner school of Praxis, GCC students get first priority to apply. It is highly recommended for students of all majors to attend this event and gain insight about their calling.
The Emerging Founders Program:
Grove City College is also involved with the Praxis Emerging Founders program. Emerging Founders is a mentorship-driven immersion for next generation founders who are serious about building a redemptive venture—whether it is a business, nonprofit, or social enterprise. Each year, Praxis looks for 12-14 entrepreneurs with promise to become a part of this highly-selective program.
This program offers two different tracks for program participants: the Venture Track and the Apprenticeship Track.
The Venture Track is for current founders or co-founders who are working full-time on their startup. They participate in two in-person events (at the beginning and end of summer) as they work on their venture while participating in weekly coaching and curriculum.
The Apprenticeship Track is for leaders who have a strong desire to be a founder and have an idea or problem they are deeply passionate about. They are custom-matched with a high-growth startup and spend their summer apprenticing directly alongside the founder (one of our Praxis Fellows, who has been through the Praxis Accelerator). Far more than a typical internship, apprentices get unprecedented access to the life of the founder and learn through first-hand experience what it’s like to start, grow, and build a venture.
Grove City College has two recent participants in the Emerging Founders program–Karolina Lagerquist ‘16, who was involved with the Apprenticeship Track, and Hannah Vaccaro ‘18, who was involved with the Venture Track.
Karolina Lagerquist, a former Grove City College student, worked closely with Jonas Paul Eyewear, a Christian-oriented company that specializes in creating stylish glasses for children. “Getting directly involved with an entrepreneur is so important,” Karolina said. “Many programs don’t let you see actual decision making. Praxis allowed me to work with an actual faith-minded business and see what really makes a venture successful.” While working for Jonas Paul Eyewear, Karolina worked with inventory management strategic reports, customer research, and discovered new ways to diversify the business. She worked closely with the founders of Jonas Paul Eyewear, Ben and Laura Harrison. Karolina described how happy she was to be working directly with the founders of the company. Because of this intentional relationship, she’s learned a lot. From this experience, Karolina says that the biggest takeaway that she got from the internship was that “God revealed to me that the Christian worldview has legs, in our ventures and in our lives…Jesus is Lord and He’s coming back. Entrepreneurs can participate in bringing the kingdom.” Karolina is now utilizing the lessons she learned from Praxis with her involvement with Kinbox—a venture devoted to helping families reach out to loved ones in nursing homes.
Hannah Vaccaro, a current senior at GCC, attended the Venture Track of the Emerging Founders Program. She originally went to the Praxis Academy in 2015 and then ended the Venture Track in June of 2017. During the program, Hannah spent her time working on her venture “PeeWee Packs,” a product that would help make potty training more fun for kids and parents. Hannah worked with her business partner, Ross Harrington, at home and then attended video conferences every Monday and Wednesday. During these video conferences, she spoke to other entrepreneurs, discussed her business with Jon Hart (head of Praxis ), and also listened to speakers who were a part of the Praxis Scholars. Every week she read new material and did assignments that helped aid her in her venture. “It’s great being with people my age who are also entrepreneurs,” Hannah remarked. “It’s amazing seeing people who help you see that it is possible to use entrepreneurship to make a Christian oriented venture that helps shape the culture we live in.”
Each year, Praxis looks for new students to participate in this event. Grove City College Professor Tim Sweet says that the Emerging Founders program is “a unique chance to work with a successful kingdom-minded venture that is fully qualified.” This program isn’t like an average internship, it is a calling that God has for your future.This year, applications are open November 1-December 1. The program runs for 9 weeks during June 4- August 4.