Executive Director, Deming Center for Entrepreneurship
Even Erick Mueller’s therapy dogs seem able to sense how tired he is this Monday afternoon.
Erick has just returned from solo teaching a rural entrepreneurship workshop in Hayden all weekend—one way he volunteers to help budding founders—and is about to attend a reception for Buffs With a Brand, the initiative the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship created to help student-athletes market themselves in the age of NIL.
Perhaps out of respect, or just being tired themselves, his two English retrievers, Khaya and Auggie, are resting quietly under his desk.
But once he starts talking about his favorite subject, Erick quickly gets his second wind.
“Entrepreneurship is an amazing platform,” he said. “It’s pretty special to know you’ve helped change the trajectory of someone’s life in a positive way, whether it’s employing someone in a business or giving a student the tools and knowledge to help them on their journey. It keeps me coming back for more.”
“It’s pretty special to know you’ve helped change the trajectory of someone’s life in a positive way, whether it’s employing someone in a business or giving a student the tools and knowledge to help them on their journey.”
Erick Mueller (MBA’99)
Erick has been with Leeds since joining as an adjunct professor in 2003, but even as he rose through the ranks of the Deming Center, he remained a founder. He’s created five businesses and remains co-founder and chairman of Funovation, which specializes in developing fun attractions that, as he put it, remind the world to play.
“I’m a firm believer that our faculty should be doing what they teach,” Erick said. “I get to teach what I do and do what I teach. That delivers that much more of an impactful, practical, tangible learning experience.”
Entrepreneurship for all
Something he emphasizes in his teaching is that entrepreneurship is not just for people who want to start a company.
“Entrepreneurship is not starting a business—it’s a way of thinking that you can use at a big or small company,” he said. “We help people by giving them the tools, programming and classes to go as far down the path as they want.”
The opportunity to help create impact is what excites Erick about his work.
“The word I use a lot is unleash—our work at the center unleashes the entrepreneurial excitement in everybody,” Erick said. “It’s amazing to see the light bulb go on for someone who starts by saying, ‘I can’t do it,’ and then they leave by saying ‘I can do this, I have the tools to do it and I’m inspired to do it.’”
You won’t hear him use the word “unleashed” when he talks about his other avenue to create impact. After his mother died while he was young, Erick and his siblings got a puppy, Tippy Tail, “and to an extent, she saved my life,” he said. “Having the unconditional love of a puppy when you’re a teenager, dealing with angst—it was a tough time.”
That firsthand experience with an animal’s power to heal left a deep impression. In his early 30s, he adopted a pair of dogs, Max and Pula, who became mainstays in children’s hospitals and, especially, retirement homes. He’s continuing that tradition with Auggie and Khaya, both recently certified as therapy animals.
“For me, it all comes back to impact,” Erick said. “My journey has been about being of service—whether with puppies, as teacher, a founder, a dad, or a community member. I feel very blessed to give back to others.”
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