Better Business

Matt Ernst had a taste for entrepreneurial adventures long before he came to the University of Mary Washington.

The 1994 business administration graduate began his first startup –a lawn care company – at the age of 15.

Matt Ernst returned to UMW as the 2014 Executive-in-Residence.

Matt Ernst returned to UMW as the 2014 Executive-in-Residence.

“There’s no time like the present,” said Ernst. “If you don’t pursue your dream when you have it right there in front of you, you never know if that moment might come again.”

Ernst has seized many moments since his first startup as a teenager. Most recently, he founded Walnut Grove Holdings LLC, an investment company that focuses on early-stage technology companies.

“I’m learning how to invest, what not to invest in, to trust my gut like I always did, to seek mentors, to be a sponge, to continue learning and to get out there and be present,” said Ernst, who is focusing on investing in companies with honest, hardworking people.

As the eighth of nine children, Ernst learned at a young age about group dynamics, teamwork and to be resilient in the face of change.

While working for a Boston-based consulting firm, he saw an opportunity to make business and information technology better and jumped on it. He founded Amentra in 2000, a business that worked with Fortune 500 companies to build personalized IT systems and technologies and train employees with the skills required to operate them.

The leap of faith paid off. The company became an immediate success. In 2007, he was named the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

Matt Ernst (right) married his college sweetheart Amy Henderson Ernst (left), a fellow UMW graduate.

Matt Ernst (right) married his college sweetheart Amy Henderson Ernst (left), a fellow UMW graduate.

The following year, Ernst sold Amentra, just eight years after starting it, to Red Hat, a worldwide provider of open source technology.

“It’s inspiring to our current students to see someone like Matt leave Mary Washington and do what he has done,” said Lynne Richardson, dean of the College of Business. “It shows that UMW graduates can become entrepreneurs, work hard, and achieve their financial and professional goals.”

Ernst came back to UMW in the spring to serve as the College of Business Executive-in-Residence. He met with community members, faculty, staff and students to tell his story, but he also focused on another area: work, life balance.

He reminded students to be mindful of family and friends. He married his college sweetheart Amy Henderson Ernst, a fellow UMW graduate, and they now have three children. And though he lives a busy life, he always tries to make it home in time to eat dinner with his family.


  1. What Ernst achieved is inspiring for any determined person wanting to do something with there ideas and motivation he shows anybody can achieve there goal.

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