Virginia Secretary Cheng Says Virginia is for Entrepreneurs (and Business)

15 February 2012

Virginia welcomes businesses and encourages entrepreneurs, says Jim Cheng, secretary of commerce and trade of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a Darden graduate (MBA ’87), and member of the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees.

“We want to incentivize companies that want to stay in Virginia,” he told Darden students Friday as keynote speaker of the Black Business Student Forum conference called “Manage the Future.”
He urges students to “go out and pursue your dreams. Be an entrepreneur.”

Cheng should know. He’s been an entrepreneur all his life, spending 20 years in the information technology business and most recently serving as president of the startup efficient-energy firm Totus Lighting Solutions.

Waving “Virginia is for Lovers” bumper stickers at the students, Cheng proved an energetic cheerleader for the state, touting its prime business location, its great harbors and airports and its proximity to Washington, D.C. “We have a lot of natural advantages,” he says, as well as “historically low taxes. We’re always looking at ways to decrease regulations.”

Cheng says that both aspiring business people and companies have to be willing to “pivot,” to change strategy in mid-stream. He cited YouTube as a company that pivoted from its initial identity as a video dating site. “Being able to pivot, to be flexible is very, very important.”

Cheng also called his Darden education a “singularly fantastic experience,” which prepared him well for the entrepreneurial world. “Probably the best part was interacting with so many smart people and how Darden teaches teamwork. Companies want smart people but, more importantly, they want people who can work together.”

The 24th annual Black Business Student Forum Conference explored key business trends and skills — such as marketing, consulting, entrepreneurship and finance — in “hot topic” panels held throughout the day.

An afternoon “Leap of Faith” workshop focused on three Darden graduates who related their experiences in taking a leap in faith in their business careers by following their instincts.

Before coming to Darden, Jacqueline Grace (MBA ’10) turned down a safe job even though she was unemployed (for the first time in her adult life), holding out for her dream job as a minority recruiter, which she eventually attained. The choice was a tough one, she says. “It was the most challenging position I have ever been in but in the end the most rewarding.”

Alzay Calhoun (MBA ’06) says he saw his bank account drift down from five figures, to four, to three as he struggled to get new clients in 2010 for his consulting business. He interviewed for a job at a company, but realized he didn’t want it. He was an entrepreneur, not an employee. He now runs a marketing consultancy that focuses on sequenced marketing campaigns to grow small businesses.

Kevin Martin (MBA ’10) speaks of his leaps of faith, the first being to simply go to college. He was the first person to pursue higher education from his low-income family. His second leap of faith was to attend Darden. “Taking leaps of faith taught me I can adapt to any situation. I have to be confident … and never give up.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Press Contact

Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia