Not too many students get to have lunch with a group of CEOs, but several Clemson University students are doing just that every month with the help of NEXT in Greenville.

It’s a rare opportunity to learn entrepreneurship from top business leaders.

“We are piloting a program where students come once a month and sit in on our CEO lunch meetings,” says NEXT CEO John Moore. “The CEOs really enjoy having the students there, and students can see the practical business application of entrepreneurship. It’s a great opportunity for everyone.”

The program brings together NEXT and “The DEN.”

NEXT INNOVATION CENTER is a co-location space in Greenville where high-impact entrepreneurs can further develop their companies from the early stages through an entrepreneurial support system.

NEXT is a flexible, customer-led nonprofit that has developed a community of innovation in the Upstate. Some of the community’s citizens are Clemson University students who participate in The Design and Entrepreneurship Network, also known as The DEN.

Moore is an ’86 Clemson alumnus who has connected the Innovation Center with the DEN.

“Part of my job is to find talent and Clemson is a leading university with plenty of potential,” he says.

NEXT and The DEN began their relationship in the fall of 2014 when DEN students were welcomed to the Innovation Center to tour the NEXT facilities. So impressed with the students was Moore that he has since developed a lasting relationship with The DEN.

Moore says NEXT is looking to expand its relationship with Clemson students. Specifically, Moore hopes to connect students with CEOs who may be able to offer internships and mentoring.

“This is just the beginning,” he says. “As NEXT expands, our relationship with Clemson students will expand, too. We’re hoping to make greater connections between students and the business market. We like connecting with Clemson students who are still in the classroom so we can give a real world context to their studies.”

Moore is supportive of the Clemson DEN program. The flexibility of the organization allows innovation to flow freely, he says.

“The DEN has the right mix of people and is able to balance the fine line of structure that keeps things orderly, but also fosters creativity,” Moore observes.

Moore calls the NEXT Innovation Center a boot camp where entrepreneurs learn to apply entrepreneurial theory to actual businesses.

“NEXT and The DEN are very similar in their efforts to form creative and productive environments for patrons,” he says. “And for students on the edge of their fields, you just can’t buy that kind of opportunity.”

For more information about the NEXT Innovation Center, please visit http://nextsc.org/