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Our view: Explaining a fresh idea gone sour

The Global Entrepreneur Training project started with the best intentions. With luck, it could have been something to behold and an example for other diverse cities to follow.

Instead, it was beset by failures that fell, as our reporting staff noted, "like dominoes against its success."

A long report that begins on today's Page A1 tells the tale of GET, from its optimistic start through a tailspin that ended in its unflattering demise.

The Herald began this project months ago, when a forced retirement and resignations mounted throughout the business arms of the University of North Dakota.

Bruce Gjovig, CEO for the UND Center for Innovation, retired in the spring, but later told the Herald he was pushed to resign.

Margaret Williams, dean of the UND College of Business and Public Administration, abruptly left during the second semester and took a job as dean at another university.

Tim O'Keefe, chairman of the UND School of Entrepreneurship, accepted an early buyout in the spring and left the school.

The contract for La Royce Batchelor, a UND business instructor and the one responsible for the GET project, was not renewed.

And Kristi Mishler resigned as director of the Grand Forks Community Foundation. She wasn't a UND employee but headed the organization that provided funding for the GET project.

All of those departures came within a few months of each other. There were red flags all over.

What followed were numerous requests by the Herald for documents — official and unofficial — from UND. Because those are public records, that is our right, and we did it to the tune of 15,000 pages of documents, costing more than $1,000 in fees.

It also resulted in hours of interviews among the principals associated with GET.

What did we find?

Nothing illegal, and also that the exodus from the business school evidently isn't related to GET. A lack of early, and consistent, funding eventually doomed it.

But through our investigation we uncovered finger-pointing, infighting at the university, asbestos at the Grand Cities Mall, a high amount of stress and much of the seed money—grants amounted to $70,000—down the drain.

In the days leading up to publication of this report, Batchelor requested copies of all interviews conducted between her and Herald reporters, as well as "a list of everyone interviewed at the request of my attorney."

The Herald refused her request.

The death of GET was not from a great sword across its proverbial neck, but instead from numerous small darts to its body. The Herald presents it to readers today as a portrait of a fresh idea turned sour, and in hopes that readers better understand the pitfalls of entrepreneurship and startups — which so often are heralded but rarely shown as tenuous projects in a difficult environment.

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