Justin Urso Tapped to Lead McMillon Innovation Studio
Fayetteville entrepreneur and U of A alumnus Justin Urso has been selected as the new director of the McMillon Innovation Studio, an interdisciplinary facility and set of programs housed in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the U of A serving students from across campus and industry partners across the state.
"The McMillon Innovation Studio reaches a diverse, interdisciplinary population of students who are driven to use their time at the University of Arkansas to not just learn but to create meaningful change in the world," said Sarah Goforth, executive director of the U of A's Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which oversees the studio.
"Justin is the perfect person to design the experiences and connect the mentor communities that help students create new products and services that address important problems and needs."
Urso has a diverse background that includes working with startups and helping companies expand by harnessing their data. He also brings to the studio a wealth of experience mentoring and coaching student teams on product strategy, software and app development and business model design.
"I'm excited to not only be part of the amazing University of Arkansas staff but to be part of the Walton College and OEI, all of which have had a profound impact on shaping my life in a positive way," Urso said.
"When the opportunity came about, it didn't take me long to realize how great a fit it would be."
Since 2017 Urso has served as strategy consultant at Concord Adams, a company he co-founded that provides custom website design and development services. In 2014, he co-founded Skosay, a retail technology company that landed high-profile clients such as Tyson Foods and Kellogg's.
Urso also co-founded Big Box Karaoke in Fayetteville. The popular karaoke bar and restaurant was named Small Business of the Year by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce in 2019.
Urso has been a mentor to the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Delta I-Fund since 2014 and a member of the Walton College DREAM Advisory Board since 2018.
"As a successful entrepreneur and innovator in his own right, Justin brings deep credibility and first-hand experience to this role, and the University of Arkansas is incredibly fortunate to welcome him back to our community," Goforth said.
Urso officially started in a part-time capacity on March 15, with plans to transition to full-time later this year.
"I can't wait to get started working with students and seeing their own passion for innovation, entrepreneurship and solving problems come to life," Urso said.
"I'm most excited about the opportunity to help to connect them to amazing opportunities in our community, whether it be building something of their own or helping them pave their way to becoming a great and innovative leader in an organization."
Rachel Sullivant, who has been interim director of the studio since December 2020, will continue in her previous role as assistant director. Sullivant also will continue to oversee the studio's design teams, which allow students to harness human-centered design principles to solve problems in an array of industries.
Last year's teams tackled everything from streamlining grocery pickups and cutting down on food waste to improving child mental health during the COVID-19 lockdown. Following a semester of guidance from the studio that includes in-depth mentorship from local business leaders, the teams unveiled their prototypes at the end of the semester during the studio's annual Demo Day.
Urso, who graduated with a master's degree in 2014, said his time at the U of A helped shape his career.
"Being an entrepreneur for many years has brought a tremendous amount of excitement to my life and to my family," Urso said.
"I wouldn't be on the path I am on had it not been for the opportunities I had as a student at the Walton College and the University of Arkansas."
About McMillon Innovation Studio: The McMillon Innovation Studio exists to shape the future of commerce by developing and enabling students to be catalysts of innovation. The studio hosts interdisciplinary student collaboration teams and provides prototyping space for students and faculty across campus to connect and create together. Inside the studio, students have access to makerspace tools like CAD modeling and 3D printers, as well as a band saw, drill press, CNC and sewing machine.
About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio and Startup Village, OEI provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.
About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 3 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.
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