Systems & Methods, Inc. (SMI) and the University of West Georgia announced today a partnership to establish the Stone Center for Family Business, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation within UWG’s Richards College of Business.
The Stone Center, announced as part of SMI’s 50th-anniversary celebration, will serve as a hub for student programming, faculty engagement and community outreach aimed at nurturing innovation and entrepreneurial activity in the west Georgia region.
“It’s the impact UWG has on our whole community and area,” said Bob Stone, founder of SMI and the center’s namesake, explaining why he led the center’s establishment. “I think our community is blessed because we have a three-legged stool: education, industry and healthcare. I think that is what makes our community so special, and if I can do anything to help the education part of that, that is what we should be doing.”
A key focus of the center will be programs that engage UWG students in entrepreneurial endeavors. The Stone Center will enhance the academic certificate the Richards College of Business currently offers to business and non-business students with co-curricular initiatives such as pitch competitions at the local, state and national level; seminars and workshops that enhance entrepreneurial understanding and how family businesses operate and create value for consumers; mentoring programs that match students with successful entrepreneurs; and programs that connect promising student startups with helpful resources and tools.
“The Stone Center will give students that next level of mentoring, teaching them how to transcend and make a difference in their family business,” Stone said. “What I hope comes out of the Stone Center is that we can train people in the realities of family business versus a corporate culture.”
The center’s programming will specialize in family-owned businesses and the unique challenges and opportunities of starting and running a business while balancing family dynamics to ensure longevity.
“I am excited about the opportunity to have a family business center at UWG, here locally, to provide the experienced knowledge for the third and fourth generations and beyond for SMI,” said Bill Stone, SMI president and a second-generation leader in the family business.
The Richards College of Business currently employs a core group of faculty members whose teaching and research focus on entrepreneurship. The success of the Stone Center will depend heavily on current and future faculty whose individual areas of expertise will help drive the curriculum development and enhancement of courses, seminars, workshops, and programs.
“The establishment of the Stone Center for Family Business, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation is a momentous and historic occasion for our university and students,” said Dr. Brendan Kelly, UWG’s president. “We are incredibly honored to have such a significant partnership with the Stone family and are humbled by their immense generosity. Relationships like the one we share – that create opportunities like the Stone Center – are critical to elevating our university, community, and region.”
Dr. Christopher Johnson, dean of UWG’s Richards College of Business, agreed, saying the new center will positively impact student success and greatly enhance community connectivity.
“This new center will be exceptionally transformative for the Richards College of Business, providing students and our community with an array of 21st-century resources,” Johnson said. “We owe an incredible debt of gratitude to the Stone family, and we look forward to working together to further enhance our thought partnership and shared goals.”
Stone has a long history of entrepreneurship in the west Georgia region. In 1971, he founded SMI, a computer consulting service, while teaching at UWG, where he started the first internship program at the Richards College of Business.
While teaching at UWG, Stone was making a name for himself in Carrollton by helping businesses – many of whom employed his UWG students – with their accounting and data processing. Word spread, and Stone was approached by the local Department of Family and Children Services office to solve a management process problem they were experiencing.
Stone devised a plan to introduce computerized file management and designed a computer program that delivered the solution DFCS needed. SMI eventually won the entire 159-county reach, contracts Stone won by personally traveling to each office. Those early relationships eventually led to contracts to issue food stamps to the entire state.
Under the leadership of the second Stone generation, SMI reinvented itself in the late 1990s when the federal food stamp program converted to EBT, breaking into the child support world by partnering with state and local governments to deliver payments to families and children. SMI began offering debit card services in the early 2010s, a line of business that grew quickly with new technology and features that made it easier for families to access their money.
The Stone family’s second generation sees the Stone Center as another opportunity to serve.
“SMI’s mission is ‘Going the Extra Mile with a Passion to Serve,’” said Karen Middlebrooks, chief administrative officer. “Being able to offer resources to UWG that will help the community and help progress the students at UWG matches our goal and mission: relationships, service and innovation.”