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Academic Priorities

McNair Institute for Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise

McNair Entrepreneurship Showcase:
Live and Virtual on Nov. 12

Hear from entrepreneurs and UofSC alums Ben Green (2003, MBA) and Chris Heivly (1984 master’s, geography) and Ashlee Ammons, the founder of Mixtroz. Network before and after the event and connect with student- and alumni-driven startups.

Students who attend in person at the Russell House Underground will receive free copies of Heivly’s and Green’s books. This free hybrid event will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12.



Inspiring students to pursue entrepreneurship

The McNair Institute for Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise promotes scholarly activity, educates students about the role of free enterprise and entrepreneurship in enhancing economic growth, and encourages students to contribute and participate through entrepreneurism in creating a better America.

The Institute is funded through the generosity of The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation, which also funds centers at multiple other universities across the nation supporting entrepreneurship and free enterprise education. Under the guiding vision of Robert and Janice McNair, the foundation is committed to developing a new generation of entrepreneurial leaders who have both the technical skills and the philosophical understanding of how a free enterprise system forms the basis of economic opportunity and prosperity for individuals in our country.

The  McNair Institute offers a range of courses, experiences, and educational resources to inspire in students an appreciation of how free enterprise and entrepreneurship serve as a catalyst for economic growth in the Unites States and the world.

  • The McNair Entrepreneurship Showcase is designed to inspire, invigorate and inform students, business leaders and alumni about entrepreneurship and innovation in South Carolina. Previous showcases have featured Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media; Alli Webb, founder and chief creative officer of Drybar; and Dave Knox, best-selling author of Predicting the Turn: The High Stakes Game of Business Between Startups and Blue Chips.
    Save the date for the fifth annual showcase: Friday, November 12, 2021
  • The Entrepreneurship & Innovation Living and Learning Community is open to all majors across the university, giving students a unique perspective into the inner workings of fields and industries they wouldn’t normally encounter. In this community, students have the opportunity to learn from faculty, staff and their peers, collaborating in unexpected ways.
    Learn More about Entrepreneurship and Innovation >>>
  • The StartupWind Virtual Entrepreneurship Support Platform provides students and alumni an easy way to build an idea concept, business model canvas and a comprehensive business plan, with virtual support and coaching from faculty, staff and volunteer advisors.
    Start building your idea >>>
  • The McNair Institute Student Advisory Council advises the McNair Institute on programs and services that can enhance students’ experiences at UofSC and beyond. Students are invited or may express interest in joining the council.
  • Entrepreneurship courses are available in colleges across the campus. The McNair Institute sponsors COLA 298, “Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise,” an interdisciplinary course in which students learn dynamics of how the free enterprise system works and how entrepreneurs start, grow and manage innovations and new ventures successfully.

Dirk Brown, faculty director

Dirk Brown is the faculty director of the University of South Carolina's McNair Institute for Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise. Dr. Brown is a seasoned executive with a strong track record of developing, marketing and licensing disruptive, proprietary technologies. He has written over 30 technical papers and journal articles, holds over 25 patents, and is an active member in a number of professional societies.

Brown holds an M.B.A. from San Jose State, a Ph.D. (Materials Science) and M.Eng. (Applied Physics) from Cornell University and a B.Sc. (Engineering) in applied physics/electrical engineering from Queen's University in Canada.

To contact Dirk Brown, call the Institute or email

Kristina Hooks,  director, partnerships and events

Kristina Hooks brings a broad range of experience from the business, government, and nonprofit sectors including work in higher education, auditing, and retail. She holds an M.B.A. from the University of South Carolina, an M.P.A. from the University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston, a B.S. (Business Administration) from the College of Charleston, and a B.A. (Corporate Communication) from the College of Charleston.

To contact Kristina Hooks, call the Institute or email

Katherine Swartz Hilton, director, strategic initiatives

Katherine Swartz Hilton oversees strategic initiatives for the University of South Carolina McNair Institute for Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise. Ms. Swartz Hilton's expertise is organizational growth strategies, with a career spanning 20 years in academic and nonprofit executive positions.

She holds a M.A. in Organizational Change and Leadership from Columbia College, a B.A. in Communications from the University of South Carolina, a number of professional certificates and credentials, and has been recognized regionally in business and professional publications. She is an active volunteer and philanthropist.

To contact Katherine Swartz Hilton, please call 803-576-8358 or email

Coy Gibson, business manager, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Living and Learning Community

Coy Gibson is from Camden, South Carolina and currently serves as business manager for the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Learning Community. He manages financial accounts, vendor relationships, office spaces and supports student-led programs at E&I. He attained dual master’s degrees in international business and management from the Darla Moore School of Business and ESCP Europe Business School in Paris, France. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of South Carolina Honors College.

To contact Coy Gibson, please call 803-576-7311 or

Breanna Spaulding, community manager

Bre serves as community manager to the McNair Institute for Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise and joins our team with a robust background in project management. Her role connects students to opportunities with startups in the community. She holds a M.S. from Southern New Hampshire University in Healthcare Administration, and a B.A. from Columbia College in Public Health. Community involvement is important to Bre and she enjoys most of her free time exploring and experiencing Columbia and all it has to offer.

To contact Bre Spaulding, please call 803-576-7716 or

Please contact our team via email ( or call 803-777-1717 to speak with or book an appointment with one of our faculty or staff.

Our office location and mailing address is:

McNair Institute for Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise
Office of the Provost
1430 Senate St., Suite 106
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29208-0001

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