Ben Eng learned about small business firsthand when as a youngster he worked as a busboy at Ming’s, a popular Chinese restaurant his parents owned and operated in Huntington.
“My parents’ restaurant was successful because they worked hard and earned the support of the people of Huntington,” Eng said.
Today, Eng teaches small business basics and entrepreneurship as an assistant professor of marketing at Marshall University and director of Marshall’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation — known as “the iCenter.”
He got his undergraduate degree at James Madison University, earned his MBA at Marshall and his Ph.D. at Southern Illinois.
“I wanted to be a lawyer until I got to law school,” he said. “Then I worked for a show business talent agency. I liked it but wanted a job that was more meaningful. I had an opportunity to teach a marketing class here at Marshall after I got my MBA, and quickly knew it was the job for me.”
Eng described his role at Marshall as a “dream job” because he’s able to “empower students with the innovation knowledge they need to reframe the future of our state and region.”
Success requires innovation, according to Eng. “Almost anyone can start up a business and be some sort of entrepreneur, but the key to successful entrepreneurship is innovation,” he said. “In order for that business to be good, it has to be able to compete with its competitors. The way you do that is by being different. And that’s where innovation comes in.”
Marshall University, Eng noted, works to foster entrepreneurship in a number of ways.
“There’s the multifaceted Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) which offers diverse services to manufacturers, entrepreneurs, educators and students. The Brad D. Smith Business Incubator provides space to entrepreneurs in the Marshall Visual Arts Center downtown. And, of course, there’s the iCenter, which teaches innovation and entrepreneurship to individuals and groups.”
The obvious reason to foster the growth of entrepreneurship is to create jobs. More businesses mean more jobs.
“But there’s also a deeper, less obvious reason,” Eng said. “Entrepreneurship is the ultimate problem-solving tool. Here in West Virginia, we have so many problems. We have substance abuse and a long list of health concerns, including a high rate of heart ailments. But those challenges are also opportunities. I’m convinced that by using entrepreneurship to address those challenges we can help resolve them and, in the process, create new West Virginia companies.
“When you think about businesses solving problems, we can either do that ourselves or someone from out of state could come in solve our problems for us. Which one would be more preferable? Obviously, doing it ourselves would be the best course of action. For years we’ve been waiting for someone to come in and solve our problems. That hasn’t happened and, frankly, it’s not going to happen. We have to do it ourselves.”
Eng addresses problems with the same positive attitude. “The average person looks at a difficult problem and sees it as something that can’t be solved,” he said. “In contrast, an entrepreneur looks at a challenge and sees it as something they can solve and turn into a business. It’s all a matter of your point of view. That’s the heart of entrepreneurship.”