Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship gaining momentum


With a management team in place and an infusion of new capital, the entrepreneurial heart of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is realizing its mission.


Jim Thomas

Jim Thomas

 Eric Dent

Eric Dent

 Carmen Calabrese

Carmen Calabrese

 Thomas Menefee

Thomas Menefee


The Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship (TFCE), with a two-pronged mission to stimulate business enterprise in the region and at the University, achieved several milestones over the winter including a second gift from its founder Jim Thomas.

A Pembroke native and commercial real estate developer headquartered in Los Angeles, Thomas contributed an additional $300,000 in 2008 for administrative costs at the center. His gift of $500,000 in 2005 was matched by the state to fund a distinguished professor in entrepreneurship that was filled in late 2007 by Dr. Mike Menefee.

Following the recent meeting of the center’s advisory panel, Thomas said he is pleased with the center’s progress and optimistic about its future.

“We are still in the early stages, and I’m very optimistic for the future of the center,” Thomas said. “I’m pleased where we’re at; it’s come a long way.

“What I see now is potential waiting to be tapped,” he said.

With a new Web site ( and outreach efforts underway, the TFCE is also reaching inside UNCP to build academic programs in entrepreneurship.

Three new programs are coming to life in the School of Business: (1) a certificate program in entrepreneurship will be available for students in any discipline next fall, (2) a “minor” available to any non-business undergraduate in the fall and (3) an undergraduate “major” for business majors is slated for 2009.

In February, UNCP’s Faculty Senate approved the certificate program and the minor course of study. The certificate program and the 18-credit minor course of study seek to stimulate entrepreneurial spirit across campus, said Dr. Calabrese, who moved to the TFCE from a successful tenure as director of UNCP’s MBA program.

“This will set the stage for individuals who are looking at the business side of any academic discipline,” he said. “These programs provide the tools of business and entrepreneurship.

“The TFCE is a great marriage between academics and the real world,” Dr. Calabrese said. “As we tap the resources of the University and collaborate with other public and private entities, the economy of our local community will be the ultimate winner.”

Located in COMtech, a business incubator near campus, the TFCE is brokering partnerships, working with clients and telling its story. One hundred people attended its recent “E” Summit at UNCP’s Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development Center next door.

“We’re marshalling all our resources, the Small Business and Technology Development Center, the Regional Center and our faculty and students,” Dr. Calabrese said. “Coordinating all applicable outreach areas of the University is critical to the efficient and effective use of our resources.”

The newly formed advisory panel has eight members: Thomas, Dr. Calabrese, Dr. Menefee, Dr. Eric Dent, dean of the School of Business, Larry Chavis, CEO of Lumbee Guaranty Bank, headquartered in Pembroke, Robert Locklear, CEO of TWL Trucking Company of Pembroke, Samuel Locklear, owner of Locklear and Sons Funeral Home and Richard Rink, an entrepreneur from Phoenix, Ariz.

“It was an interesting and informative meeting of the advisory group,” Thomas said. “They explained the tools available to assist businesses, and we provided direction and additional resources.”

The TFCE’s management team consisting of Drs. Menefee and Calabrese is a good one, Thomas said.

“The two of them are a very nice fit, and it looks like they are hitting full stride,” he said. “It’s not something that will happen overnight.

“I am very optimistic for making an impact,” Thomas said. “This is a long-term program.”

The involvement of Thomas in the project’s funding and advising is critical, Dr. Dent said.

“Sally and Jim Thomas’s first gift has already had a tremendous impact on UNCP and the surrounding community, as the reports at the first advisory panel meeting of the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship testify,” he said. “This second generous gift will allow us to expand our reach and impact as we foster the entrepreneurial spirit and efforts in Pembroke and the region.”

Thomas said that stimulating and nurturing entrepreneurship is more critical to the economy than ever.

“The economy has changed; now, entrepreneurs are creating the employment,” he said. “It would be interesting to know how much quicker I could have started my business if I could have gotten the kind of assistance we are offering.

“Helping people help themselves is the best way,” Thomas concluded.

The TFCE may be contacted at 910.775.4209 or by email at