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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Former Apple Tech-Evangelist Guy Kawasaki Wows ODU Entrepreneurs

Watching through the floor-to-ceiling windows at Old Dominion University's Strome Entrepreneurial Center Monday, a small group of students waited anxiously for the guest of honor.

Guy Kawasaki, the visionary tech entrepreneur and author, spent March 30 at Old Dominion. The former Apple chief evangelist, who is the author of 12 books on entrepreneurship, delivered a lunch-time address to the Economics Club of Hampton Roads. He was also the President's Lecture Series featured speaker later in the evening at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

During the visit, no one appeared more thrilled to meet him than the student entrepreneurs who spend hours at the Strome Center working to develop their ideas into marketable businesses.

Kawasaki arrived to meet the crowd between the two addresses he delivered, and was led by Strome Center executive director Nancy Grden straight over to meet the student entrepreneurs.

"I follow you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google-Plus," senior management student Franck Tchouambou enthused to Kawasaki, as he posed for a series of irreverent photographs with student entrepreneurs.

"I was so excited to meet him," a still-beaming Tchouambou said, after Kawasaki had moved on to meet others at the reception. "What he's done is exactly what we're hoping to do here at ODU."

Friend and fellow ODU student entrepreneur David Jenkins echoed the enthusiasm.

"He's just incredible," Jenkins said. "Our idea is that maybe two percent of ODU's students are like us, wanting to start businesses right here. The more opportunity we get to meet people like Guy Kawasaki, the more it will grow entrepreneurship here."

Kawasaki said he was so energized by his meeting with the ODU student entrepreneurs that he delivered two complete speeches as part of his President's Lecture.

"There is so much entrepreneurship here, I'm going to give you a second speech," he told the crowd of about 600. Kawasaki captivated the audience with his lectures "The Art of Enchantment" and "The Art of Innovation."

Kawasaki told the audience he has learned that a Top 10 list is the best way to keep a crowd engaged. A former Silicon Valley executive, he also stressed that he knows tech gurus don't have a reputation for oratorical gifts.

This was not a problem for Kawasaki, as his humorous anecdotes about former Apple boss Steve Jobs ("All those stories you heard about him are true. And then some"); his travels as a tech evangelist; and his family kept the audience engaged.

One of the 10 points of advice Kawasaki gave during his "enchantment" talk was to build an ecosystem of professional and personal contacts. "An ecosystem helps you enchant customers. An ecosystem wants you to succeed. An ecosystem will," he said.

Old Dominion is using the very same approach at the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, which opened last September. Created thanks to an $11-million gift by the Strome Family Foundation, led by ODU alumnus Mark Strome and wife Tammy, the center is the hub of a campus-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem, empowering student start-ups through every phase of the innovation lifecycle.

Companies like CampusWise, the online textbook marketplace, have been created through the center. There also exists a broader group of determined student entrepreneurs who aspire to follow in the footsteps of people like Kawasaki.

During his lunch-time address to the Economics Club, delivered as part of the Landmark Executive-in-Residence lecture series, Kawasaki told the audience he ardently hopes the next great high-tech start-up is "inside a dorm room at Old Dominion University right now."

That address, to an audience largely comprised of business professionals, was focused on the maxims individuals should operate by in business start-ups, such as "jumping to the next curve," and "don't worry, be crappy," meaning companies shouldn't be afraid to try selling a new product even if it isn't perfect.

"The way we work in Silicon Valley is we ship, and then we test. If you are in the biotech industry, please ignore this advice," Kawasaki joked.

Questions from the audience included a query to Kawasaki about how to reorient the Hampton Roads economy away from dependence on defense spending. Kawasaki quibbled good-naturedly with the premise of the question.

"Look at a country like Israel. They spend half of their budget on defense because they're surrounded by countries that want to kill them," Kawasaki said. "Israel is an absolute hub of innovation. The key for a region like this is for the defense industry to create many new technologies, which can be spun off into non-defense applications."

A handful of students from the Achievable Dream School in Newport News were in the audience for Kawasaki's Economics Club address. Tenth Grade student Shealtiel Weekes found his words inspiring.

"I live in downtown Newport News, and I'd love to start businesses that help out my community," she said. "It's amazing to hear from someone giving such real-world advice and encouragement."

The chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool, Kawasaki is an unabashed social media advocate with more than 6.7 million followers on Google+, 1.4 million on Twitter and 270,000 on Facebook. He's also the author of 13 books, including "APE: How to Publish a Book" and "Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions."

Throughout the day, he kept up a running conversation with many local residents on social media. Replying to a picture of himself at the Strome Center with three student entrepreneurs more than 30 years his junior, Kawasaki tweeted: "I'm the second from the left, in case anyone wonders."

ODU's President's Lecture Series serves as a marketplace for ideas, featuring fascinating personalities who share their knowledge, experience, opinions and accomplishments. Presenting discussion of timely topics, the series puts diversity first, offering an international lineup of authors and educators, business innovators and political figures.

Established in 2001, the Landmark Executive-in-Residence program is funded by an endowment from a group of former Landmark Communications executives in honor of the late Frank Batten Sr., former chairman of the executive committee of the Landmark board and the first rector of the ODU Board of Visitors. Its purpose is to enrich students' entrepreneurial spirit, their awareness of the success that can be built through their academic experiences and their understanding of the importance of leading with integrity.