First-Year Successes Fuels Center for Free Enterprise Director

Aug 24, 2022

by Raymond Beasock
Senior Staff Writer

It has been quite a first year for Justin Heacock.

Heacock, who was hired last year to run the Center for Free Enterprise & Entrepreneurship at Florida Southern, has helped students in the program launch 35 startups and earn more than $30,000 in scholarship and grant money for their projects in that limited time.

“The 2021-22 academic year was a milestone year for the Center for Free Enterprise & Entrepreneurship,” Heacock said. “It marks the launch of entrepreneurship at Florida Southern College as well as the impact our students have had not only locally but across the state. Coming into this role in August 2021, I was immediately impressed by the caliber of our entrepreneurial students. Because of them we were able to build a successful incubation program and immediately win in two statewide competitions going up against universities across the state.”

Most prolific among winners in the Center for Free Enterprise & Entrepreneurship was Brooke Lierman ’24, who has already acquired $22,000 for her startup idea OverTheShoulder.

LiermanBrooke Lierman ’24 needed to pitch a business idea for a Shark Tank-style competition in her Business and Free Enterprise class during her freshman year. She landed on OverTheShoulder. It was a hit with her classmates and professor. More about Lierman's project »

Lierman, who is a member of the women’s lacrosse team as well, wanted to create a device that helped women feel safer when running. OverTheShoulder is designed to alert runners when something is approaching from behind. Brooke knew it would be a success after her lacrosse teammates wanted one for their runs.

Since OvertheShoulder’s initial inception, Lierman has competed in the University of South Florida’s Frank and Ellen Daveler Entrepreneurship Program competition where she won $4,000 as well as the title of Daveler Scholar.

Lierman also won the TD Bank Business Plan Competition, which netted her $10,000 and wonanother $8,000 in scholarship money as a Robert R. and Peggy I. Sharp Fellow through the Center for Free Enterprise & Entrepreneurship.

MengelkochMarissa Mengelkoch ’21, developed Traffick Trigger, an artificial intelligence technology that helps medical professionals identify victims of human trafficking. About Traffick Trigger »

Marissa Mengelkoch ’22 also placed high in the Florida Blue Health Innovation Challenge out of USF.

Mengelkoch placed third and won $2,500 for Traffic Trigger, which is an Artificial Intelligence technology that improves health outcomes for human trafficking victims by generating a potential victim score that can better identify and educate healthcare professionals resulting in proper interventions.

Rafael Jorge ’23 also earned $8,000 as a Sharp Fellow for Mastro, a data driven marketing agency that drives revenue and brand awareness for local businesses through unique marketing strategies.

While having success in competitions and earning money is important for everyone in the Free Enterprise & Entrepreneurship program, the reach goes deeper.

Heacock explains that the impact goes to the core of Florida Southern’s approach to education.

“I would say our program is important because we are enhancing experiential education at FSC,” Heacock said. “Our focus is making sure that education doesn’t stop when a student leaves a classroom and that any student regardless of major can feel supported in pursuing their dreams. If a student wants to create a new product or service in say music, computer science, or biology, we want to be there to authentically support that student in their journey. We believe entrepreneurship is the ultimate form of experiential education because students learn not only how to interact with, but to change aspects of the world around them.”

Heacock is hungry to expand on the success of his first year.

“In the future I see entrepreneurship expanding across FSC to offer every student a chance to build an entrepreneurial mindset,” Heacock said. “I hope to see hundreds of startups coming out of FSC every single year to maximize experiential education resulting in new businesses and better jobs for our students.”