Joyce Heames, dean of the school of business at Berry, told members of the Chambers Economic Development committee Friday the college is committed to economic growth through innovative programs and projects.

"We are very committed to entrepreneurship," Heames said. "We know that is the heart of any small community. We are vying for the large companies, we want the large companies, but we need small start- ups and we need to support those."

She said Berry talks with its students about turning their ideas into reality.

"We are in the process of looking for an entrepreneur-in-residence," Heames said.

Heames lauded a program developed by Professor Paul Englis which gives students $100 at the start of the semester.

"At the end of the semester, they have to return that $100 but they can keep whatever they make on that throughout the semester," Heames said.

She leads them through the development of a business plan, the development of a marketing plan and then helps find the venues for them to sell their product. Heames said one young lady, a third year student, has created a business that has generated about $26,000 in business.

Berry will host a Pitch Conference Feb. 8-9 where students will have an opportunity to pitch their business ideas. The program that is judged as the top idea with social impact will receive $10,000, second place will get $7,500, third place will get $5,000 and fourth place will receive $2,500.

"You've seen the impact students can have with $100, I can't imagine the kind of impact they'll have with this kind of funding," Heames said. "We want them to take their passions and make them successful."

Alex Gonzalez, chief innovation officer with the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, will be the keynote speaker for the conference which will be open to the public.

But once you start the business, there’s more to it than that.

"Once you start a small business, you have to maintain the pace and you have to be innovative, you can't just sit back," she said.

She also said Berry has taken its Masters of Business Administration program and developed specialized tracks in health care management, professional management and professional accountancy.

Heames said the college was committed to meeting the needs of its host community in a variety of ways.

She pointed out that Berry made the donation of 30 acres for the Rome Tennis Center, which had a $4.8 million economic impact on Rome and Floyd County in its first year of operation. The Spires continuing care retirement community that is now under construction will also make a tremendous impact, bringing about 70 percent of the residents who have signed up thus far to Rome from other communities across the state and Southeast.

"It's not going to be your typical retirement community," Heames said.