An Insider’s Perspective on Entrepreneurial Program Development at a Small and a Large Institution
- First Online:
- Cite this article as:
- Lehman, M.S. Ann Biomed Eng (2013) 41: 1889. doi:10.1007/s10439-013-0778-6
- 250 Views
Entrepreneurship educators have an opportunity to learn from the entrepreneurship programs at both small colleges and large universities that have already sprouted up and experienced growth, challenges, failures, and ultimate successes. Programs that have contributed to the current entrepreneurship milieu can help leaders who are launching new programs or retooling existing ones, providing information to assist in defining their outcome objectives and refining their offerings. The development of new entrepreneurship programs, one at a private liberal arts institution and one at a large state-related research university, is evaluated. The common threads of “what worked” are identified, highlighting themes that other institutions of any size undertaking new initiatives can leverage. Themes discussed include the identification of institutional champions, communication with members of the “student supply chain,” and offering both non-credit, experience-based opportunities and dynamic for-credit courses. In addition, implementing a strategy that includes faculty partnerships, designated advisory boards, and refined bootstrapping skills helps to ensure that robust human and capital resources are available for program delivery, growth, and sustainability.
Net job growth in the United States over the past three decades can be attributed to the effect of new ventures, according to the Kauffman Foundation’s 2010 report on The Importance of Startups in Job Creation and Job Destruction.12 When one considers that new firms, or ones in their first year of existence, average 3 million new jobs per year, compared to the net loss of 1 million jobs by existing firms, it is no wonder educators are realizing the importance of entrepreneurship in the education arena.
The work by Hills10 in ascertaining themes surrounding the educational objectives of an entrepreneurship program remains relevant today. His survey of 15 university entrepreneurship educators highlighted “the overriding educational objective…to increase students’ awareness and understanding of the new venture initiation,” while introducing entrepreneurship as a viable career option (p. 113). This drive to broaden the minds of our future business leaders has grown, almost exponentially, over the past decades. The prevalence of entrepreneurship courses, numbering around 300 universities in the 1980s, expanded to over 1050 institutions in the 1990s.30 The growth trajectory continued, and by 2005 opportunities for students were available through more than 2200 courses in entrepreneurship at over 1600 universities throughout the United States.13,15
Educators are not only introducing new courses but are also looking at innovative ways to impart this knowledge in the classroom. For example, Neck and Greene19 suggest that the “new frontier” of entrepreneurship education is to teach it as a method. Rather than focusing on understanding, knowing, and talking, they suggest that educators have students use, apply, and act. This new method is realized through coursework, simulations, and reflective exercises, “helping students understand, develop, and practice the skills and techniques [needed] for productive entrepreneurship.”19 This new approach has impact, as we see new products and ventures emerging from the academic setting, as described later in this paper.
In addition to the growing repertoire of for-credit classes in which students can enroll, there has been a concomitant increase in the number of academic institution-based entrepreneurship centers.15 Support organizations for these hubs of innovation have also been on the rise. The National Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (NCEC), which was founded in 1996, recently expanded its reach under the newly-minted name, the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC). With a membership of over 200 colleges and universities, GCEC9 aims “to provide a coordinated vehicle through which participating members can collaborate and communicate on the specific issues and challenges confronting university-based entrepreneurship centers.” Other groups, such as the Canadian Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, have also provided a platform for collaboration among leading entrepreneurship educators and program developers.
Despite this growth in the number, breadth, and depth of programs throughout the country, leading entrepreneurship researchers Katz14 and Kuratko15 maintain that complete academic legitimacy of entrepreneurship has not yet been reached. There remains a conundrum among many academics as to where to publish papers related to entrepreneurship—in an established business management journal, in discipline-specific engineering or medical journals or in an emerging entrepreneurship journal—and lack of acceptance of entrepreneurial educators to tenured and leadership positions in business schools. Despite these short-fallings in moral and cognitive legitimacy, an opportunity lies in the field’s regulatory legitimacy.14 Regulatory legitimacy, demonstrated by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and its recognition of entrepreneurship as an important business force, as well as the myriad government and foundation initiatives providing funding for new entrepreneurship programs, provides both resources and a “public nod” that entrepreneurship is here to stay. However, while funds continue to flow to develop and promote entrepreneurship education, outcome objectives for the use of these dollars are often poorly defined.5 This too presents an opportunity for new entrepreneurial programs to paint a clear picture from their inception, particularly when the programs span disciplines such as engineering, medicine, and business.
While entrepreneurship education is becoming more widespread, debate remains as to the maturity of entrepreneurship as a field. In the Journal of Small Business Management, Katz14 purports that entrepreneurship as a discipline is mature. This contrasts with Kuratko’s stance in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice15 that we have not yet reached complete maturity for entrepreneurship as a field. Wherever consensus is drawn on the stage of “industry maturity,” we cannot ignore the fact that less than 20% of schools with business courses have a designated entrepreneurship center.14
When one steps back to survey the landscape of entrepreneurial program development over the past decade, we see an increase in the development of new courses and new teaching methods. We see a growth in the number of centers providing real-life opportunities as an outgrowth of those courses. We also see an opportunity to learn from entrepreneurship programs, both at small colleges and large universities, which have already sprouted up and experienced growth, challenges, failures, and ultimate successes.
The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the lessons learned at two academic institutions that have recently grown new student entrepreneurship programs. The unique perspective afforded in this paper is that one of the two is a rural undergraduate college with fewer than 1400 students, while the other is an urban research university with over 35,000 graduate and undergraduate students.
Two Case Studies
The case studies take place against the disparate backdrops of two academic institutions, both accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, where the author was employed at the Director level to develop and grow student entrepreneurial initiatives both inside and outside the classroom. These initiatives were aimed at students across disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, the arts, and humanities.
By evaluating the development and growth of these two programs, the author will identify common themes of what worked, providing readers from both smaller colleges and larger universities with a framework for either growing or refining their own programs. Lessons learned from failures will also provide a practical set of tools for champions of burgeoning initiatives.
Juniata College, an independent, private, four-year college in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania enrolls approximately 1400 undergraduate students. The Juniata College Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, launched in 2003, includes the Sill Business Incubator, a student seed capital fund, a major in entrepreneurship, as well as myriad experience-based learning opportunities outside the classroom. Students impacted by the center come from a variety of academic majors, including biology, chemistry, the pre-health professions, information technology, business, communication, and the arts. The author of this paper was hired as the first Executive Director, also serving as Assistant Vice President, of the new Center.
The driving force behind the development of the entrepreneurship program was the college administration. With a vision to provide an increase in the variety of experience-based learning opportunities for undergraduates from across disciplines, the Vice President of Advancement secured a number of major gifts from alumni to establish two key assets for student entrepreneurs. In conjunction with the Center’s first Executive Director, these gifts were leveraged to provide space and capital for the student entrepreneurs. The Bob and Eileen Sill Business Incubator, a 5000-square-feet business incubator in a former elementary school a few blocks from campus, provided both dedicated space and unique hotel-style incubator space, where one could rent an office on a flexible basis; this space was available for students, faculty and community members. In addition to alumni support, dollars from the United States Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development contributed to the incubator renovation project. Concurrently, a lead anonymous donor, as well as other ardent supporters, funded the Juniata Student Seed Capital Fund; this $500,000 fund provided micro-grants, loans, and equity investments for undergraduate student ventures.
The next elements to be developed were new courses and other forms of academic support. Through an effective partnership with business faculty, a major and minor in entrepreneurship were developed. Center leadership provided curriculum development support to non-business faculty from biology, chemistry, communication, theater, and ceramics seeking to incorporate entrepreneurial topics, ranging from intellectual property, entrepreneurial finance, and marketing, into existing courses. Finally, an online video library of over 400 clips from over 50 entrepreneurs was developed to facilitate a multi-media approach in entrepreneurship education. The interviews with these developing business leaders were conducted, and then edited, by student entrepreneurs at Juniata.
Regional economic development partnerships were established to provide community access to the Center’s expertise, while providing opportunities for students and local businesses to work together. The county’s non-profit economic development organization and a state-designated Enterprise Zone both contracted for management services with the Center’s staff and relocated to the Sill Incubator. A state-designated Keystone Innovation Zone, with a focus on life sciences and information technology, was also based at the Center.
After a two-year ramp-up period, the “self-funded” Juniata College Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership was providing opportunities for student entrepreneurs both inside and outside the classroom and developing synergies for the college and the regional economic development community. A board dedicated to student entrepreneurship (including a physician and life science entrepreneurs) was engaged with the center, and a staff consisting of an Assistant Vice President (the author of this paper) and four full-time directors was supplemented by interns from across academic disciplines.
The University of Pittsburgh
The University of Pittsburgh, a state-related research university in Pennsylvania, is comprised of 15 schools, over 25,000 undergraduate students (2400 of whom are in engineering and another 2000 in business) and over 10,000 graduate students (including engineering, medicine, nursing, dentistry, and business). A new wave of entrepreneurial offerings for students began in 2008 as the author of this paper was hired as Director of Student Entrepreneurship at the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence. While the Institute is housed in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration, it impacts students across the university (from engineering to medicine to business to law). The Institute provides experience-based learning opportunities as students from engineering and business serve as student consultants for regional inventors, hosts a campus-wide Big Idea competition emphasizing interdisciplinary teams and connections to the Pittsburgh-venture community, and supported the first course dedicated to entrepreneurship for undergraduate business students.
A number of driving forces coalesced to provide the support for the new student entrepreneurship focus at Pitt Business. The Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, a regional economic development force with a 10-year track-record of providing educational programs and consulting for regional closely-held business founders and leaders, provided a platform for student experience-based learning opportunities. The creation of the Tom W. Olofson Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies served to highlight the business school’s dedication to scholarly research and undergraduate and graduate teaching in the field of entrepreneurship. Out of the Dean of the Business School’s five strategic initiatives, three of them focused on entrepreneurship, experience-based learning and a desire to collaborate across disciplines, such as engineering and medicine.
The first category of new offerings for students was rooted in experience-based learning. Industry Academics Clinicians Together (IACT) was a student-originated organization, sponsored by the Institute and other Pitt departments, designed to foster collaboration between businesses, researchers, and physicians in Pittsburgh to spur technology innovation within healthcare. Multi-day Innovator’s Challenges brought together students from engineering, medicine, and business to create new technological ideas; topics ranged from “Healthcare Technologies for the Aging” to “Surgical Technology Innovation.” Elevator pitch competitions were held within the Entrepreneurial Living Learning Community, a sophomore residence hall floor dedicated to student visionaries from engineering, the health sciences, and business. Students from across the campus were supported in preparing for national elevator pitch competitions, such as the one held via the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) Conference. A Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) Team was organized and successfully competed in regional and national competitions, where they showcased the projects they completed with businesses in the community. In addition, dozens of students from engineering and business were employed by the Institute as junior consultants, working alongside veteran business consultants to address business start-up and growth issues faced by regional companies.
a drug delivery platform technology allowing for controlled release of protein therapeutics to specific tissues over time;
ChroKnow, a more efficient method for designing timed-release medications;
the RoomQ System, a technology to improve hand hygiene in hospitals, is designed to reduce hospital acquired infections;
SmartPace™, a heart imaging platform that improves the management of patients with heart failure;
TactSense Technology, a tactile feedback system for relaying the forces experienced by robotic surgical tools directly to a surgeon’s fingertips; and
UV Pods, single-use sunscreen capsules designed to ensure the right amount of sunscreen application.
Finally, new courses and course bundles were introduced at the business school. On the undergraduate level, The Entrepreneurial Process, the first course dedicated to entrepreneurship for undergraduate business students, was launched. Other courses, such as Corporate Entrepreneurship, quickly followed. An MBA Certificate in Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship was introduced, and students from business, engineering, and law were learning via real commercialization projects from both the Office of Technology Management and regional ventures.
Over a three-year period, the student entrepreneurship program has developed a breadth and depth of options for students. The student support initiated by the Institute was ramped up via the Olofson Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies, and the entrepreneurial program has fostered connections to Pittsburgh-area business incubators, technology-based economic development groups, angel networks, and venture funds. New entrepreneurial courses were introduced, with more in the pipeline.
Lessons learned during new entrepreneurship program development
Rural undergraduate college (Juniata College)
Urban research university (University of Pittsburgh)
Secure a political champion, a course champion and an administrative champion
Secure a political champion, a course champion and an administrative champion
Develop a formal organizational structure integrating the program with enrollment, marketing, and alumni development; partner with career services on key activities
Create a mechanism for communicating regularly across the units of enrollment, marketing, and alumni development; connect regularly with team of academic advisors
Diverse non-credit, experience-base opportunities
Connect to alumni with intellectual property-focused, venture-backed, scalable companies; encourage interdisciplinary team formation
Tap into university-developed technologies by faculty; support organic, student-initiated entrepreneurship clubs that connect engineering and business students
Dynamic for-credit courses
Leverage live case studies and guest lecturers, as well as periodic external reviews by entrepreneurial faculty from peer and aspirant schools
Identify a faculty member for leading the charge in coordination of content across new courses
Leverage the liberal arts environment to tailor and deliver mini-curricula on entrepreneurship in non-business classes
Cross-list courses across different schools; develop advisory boards for student ventures with faculty experts and those experienced with intellectual property and FDA approval
Designated advisory boards
Develop a board with sponsoring directors (whose financial gifts support operations and serve as matching funds), faculty and student representatives
Include experienced entrepreneurs from the region, as well as investors, as board members
Ensure accrued interest from seed capital funds or capital project accounts is reinvested back into the student entrepreneurship program
Designate gift and pledge payments specifically to student entrepreneurship activities
The new entrepreneurial programs at Juniata and Pitt were both initially catalyzed by an institutional champion—the Vice President of Advancement at Juniata and the Executive Director of the Institute at Pitt. When change in higher education is not the result of a major crisis or outside pressure, a vigorous and farsighted leader not only gets the ball rolling, but also helps to provide momentum as the team is built.26
As this team is built to implement the initial vision, Hills10 advocates for a triad of champions, particularly when new courses are part of the mix: a political champion, such as backing by the dean; a course champion, such as the professor with a passion for teaching entrepreneurship; and an administrative champion, typically an assistant dean to lead with implementation.
Both Juniata and Pitt fit this model well, as each had early and consistent political champions. Juniata’s President and Board of Trustees were early and vocal advocates of the initiative, while the Dean of the Katz Graduate School of Business at Pitt and key Trustees provided pivotal support. The course champions at each institution were present, but perhaps because the new programs were the brain child of an administrative leader, rather than a faculty leader, the process often presented some cultural challenges. Shmidtlein29 argues that initiatives led by committee, rather than a single institutional champion, may result in a stifled outcome caused by committee members’ concern for issues affecting their own departments. He goes on to suggest that faculty champions appear to be more successful when resources are stable or expanding and issues are seated in one department with little connection across other academic units or outside the university setting. On the other hand, administrative roles in decision-making are key when resource building is in the growth phase and issues cut across departments or are not related to one primary unit.29 This argument appears to be supported by the activity at both Juniata and Pitt.
For the final member of the Hills’10 triad, the role of administrative champion in both cases could be attributed to the author of the paper, charged with the daily responsibility of launching and growing the new entrepreneurship programs; the author served as Executive Director/Assistant Vice President of the Juniata College Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and later as Director, Student Entrepreneurship at Pitt’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence.
Collectively, these institutional champions are addressing key questions, either directly or indirectly, as they launch their new entrepreneurship programs. They are asking who the students will be over the next one to two decades, as well as what and how they should be taught. They ask what society’s needs will be and how society expects educators to meet those needs. They also consider the resource pipeline to pay for any new programs or programmatic changes.27 These key questions were part of the ongoing dialogue at both Juniata and Pitt as the programs transitioned from envisioning to implementation.
A key part of implementing the new entrepreneurship program on campus is integration with the “student supply chain,” which can be viewed as a set of three or more entities directly involved in flows of services to a customer.18 An academic-based entrepreneurship program is only effective when prospective students are made aware of the offerings while choosing where to pursue their degrees. When on campus, academic advisors, who often know individual students’ goals best, must be a key supplier partner. The alumni office must be involved by keeping recent alumni who have graduated from the program connected in innovative ways. Furthermore, involvement of the development office is vital so they channel gifts to be used for entrepreneurship program operational funds. The management of this supply chain should include integrated behavior3 and cooperation among its members, mutually sharing information.18
At Juniata, the director of the student entrepreneurship program reported to the Vice President of Advancement, who had three other direct reports, namely the heads of enrollment (which included admission and financial planning), marketing, and development (which included alumni relations and fundraising). This organizational structure, which provided in-person bi-weekly meetings with the above team, provided an opportunity to tightly integrate the entrepreneurship center’s supply chain from reaching prospective students to maintaining a consistent marketing buzz about the program to engaging with recent alumni and potential donors.
At Pitt, the director of the student entrepreneurship program reported to both the head of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence and the professor holding the Olofson Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies. This reporting structure did not afford an organizational connection to admissions, marketing, alumni, and development, thus creating a need for proactively integrating the supply chain. With separate groups leading admission efforts for undergraduate and graduate business students, there was even more complexity to this line of communication as compared to Juniata. Such may be the case at many larger institutions; however, the effectiveness of the Juniata model of formally connecting the key players in the student supply chain suggests larger institutions at least consider a regular in-person communication mechanism for these groups.
At both Juniata and Pitt, the relationship with academic advisors was good, but in reflection, this is an area where early program partnerships would have been beneficial. At smaller schools, faculty members often serve as the academic advisors, so their buy-in as faculty members can serve double duty. However, at larger universities, interacting with the full-time academic advising team can prove fruitful in maintaining and increasing the number of students flowing into the program.
The findings of Petersen et al.22 suggest the value of seeking and utilizing input from select suppliers during the development of new products; the result is not only a better final product design but also improved financial performance. Supply chain members should work together on new product development,7 recognizing that a “supply chain succeeds if all the members of the supply chain have the same goal and the same focus on serving customers.”16,18 This strongly suggests that when looking to create new programs, or even refine existing ones, academic institutions small or large should involve key members in the supply chain not only after the launch of the new program, but also early on during the planning phase.
Diverse Non-Credit, Experience-Based Opportunities
Non-credit, experience-based activities are one of the hallmarks of any entrepreneurship program. From elevator pitch and business plan competitions evaluated by entrepreneurs with proven track records, to trips to local incubators, to connections with regional and alumni innovators and investors, engaging students with non-credit, experience-based activities serves three purposes. Participation in these activities has a low barrier to entry, affording students with opportunities to sample the entrepreneurial culture before diving in. These activities increase awareness of entrepreneurial career opportunities through practical, real-life scenarios, provide an opportunity to facilitate interdisciplinary teams, and often increases confidence and interest in starting a business.4 Finally, these activities serve as an entrée to deciding to enroll in a more formal course of entrepreneurial study.
At Juniata, the real companies to which students were exposed fell into two camps—local businesses, which often had limited scalability, and alumni ventures, often with equity financing but located in cities at a geographical distance. The connections at Pitt generally were either university technologies or regional venture-funded businesses. This overview suggests that smaller schools take a concerted look at what research may be going on with their faculty as the basis for entrepreneurial activities, even in the absence of an office of technology management. It also suggests that larger universities dig into their alumni networks for relevant ventures, even if it appears that the local portfolio of companies is adequate. In both instances, connecting with faculty and alumni who have personal experience in obtaining patents, the FDA approval process and the journey of new product development and commercialization should be a purposeful strategy.
The non-credit opportunities, which are often cross-campus in nature, provide the opportunity for interdisciplinary team formation. This was the case at both Juniata and Pitt, where students in different courses of study traveled together to entrepreneurship conferences or competed in business plan competitions as a team. To support this interactivity, a program must engage students in non-credit activities beginning in their first year while providing the structure for frequent interactions with like-minded students…even if from another major.
Many schools, including Juniata and Pitt, have encouraged the development of entrepreneurial clubs to fulfill this purpose. However, these clubs often do not work due to the “top down” approach in which administrators declare that an entrepreneurship club is necessary for recruitment of prospective students. Furthermore, many of the students engaging in such clubs are not the students running ventures. While most student entrepreneur organizations are meant to prepare students to start their own businesses, many students join these organizations to impress possible employers.25 As evidenced by the organic, student-initiated formation of SIFE and IACT at Pitt, entrepreneurship programs should provide the support, not the direction, for student entrepreneurial organizations.
Finally, entrepreneurship programs can leverage the excitement generated by students participating in these non-credit, experience-based activities. The immediate scheduling of interviews upon the completion of these activities with the marketing department for print or video pieces can capture strong, powerful messaging for use along the supply chain in recruiting prospective students and engaging alumni. Channeling the post-event excitement through panel discussions for other students on campus has proven effective at both Juniata and Pitt.
While exposure of students to entrepreneurship stimulates a desire to start one’s own business, according to Peterman and Kennedy,21 this exposure does not necessarily impact the participants’ perceptions of the feasibility of starting a business. This supports the model of launching experience-based opportunities to stimulate initial interest, while offering for-credit courses to provide the rigorous academic exercises necessary to evaluate feasibility as the next step in the process.
Dynamic For-Credit Courses
Entrepreneurs relish independence, flexibility, and innovative ways of doing things. Students in entrepreneurial classes are no different. They thrive on learning followed by immediate application to either their own ventures or a live case study. This notion dovetails with research demonstrating that faculty can successfully simulate the processes involved in aspects of venture startup. By allowing students to take responsibility, make decisions, and take action, such classes help students learn experientially; the keys to this process are the elements of emotional exposure and situated learning.23 In addition, students can learn the process of opportunity identification, increasing the number and innovativeness of ideas.6
The author’s experience in developing and teaching new entrepreneurship courses at both Juniata and Pitt is similar to the observations of leading researchers. Gartner and Vesper8 presented a summary of successes and failures in entrepreneurship courses, generated from a survey of entrepreneurship faculty teaching 445 entrepreneurship courses at 177 institutions (four-year colleges both inside and outside the United States). Bringing to class former students and other alumni who have developed a proven track record in the entrepreneurship realm has been received favorably as a course component. However, bringing in guest speakers without providing an outline of assigned topics and goals for the visit can prompt student dissatisfaction.8
Furthermore, if a faculty member aims to develop students’ business plan knowledge, providing early feedback on a business plan to allow for refocusing and refining provides an opportunity for robust learning. In order to keep students engaged in the course materials, successful attempts are focused around dynamic teaching methods, such as “living cases” followed by networking dinners; having students present their own entrepreneurial experiences; and creating in-class “right-brained” exercises to examine barriers to creativity. Instructors should avoid simply using films, videos, and straight lecturing by the instructor.8
The author also found success in utilizing Shepherd’s28 approach to teach the emotional distress of a failing business to students, including a guest lecture from an entrepreneur whose business failed, live case studies of the challenges and setbacks with securing intellectual property and FDA approval, and the perspective from a third party such as an accountant or lawyer who witnessed the entrepreneur’s distress. Honig’s11 work suggests that a contingency-based model for teaching entrepreneurship is also useful, whereby students either implement solutions from either actual business activities they may be involved in or assist firms they are consulting. During experiential learning, action learning, and simulations, it is also important to develop innovative assessments that measure self, peer, and stakeholder contributions.24
Due to the many variables in developing and teaching a cadre of new entrepreneurship courses, an effective approach involves a team of entrepreneurial faculty. Many smaller schools, such as Juniata, have one faculty member teaching all of the entrepreneurship courses. The benefits of such a model are coordination among the syllabi and course content as the students progress through the course sequence. The drawback is a limited perspective on the field. At a large university, like Pitt, a number of faculty members may teach different entrepreneurship courses, providing a breadth of styles and research experience; however, this model often lacks a coordinated effort to provide a progression from course to course with little redundancy. The solution for a smaller school may be to include a rich variety of coordinated live case studies and guest lecturers, as well as periodic external reviews by entrepreneurial faculty from peer and aspirant schools. For a large university, identifying a faculty member to lead the charge in coordination of content is key, particularly during periods of new course and curriculum development.
At both Juniata and Pitt, the need for flexibility in the entrepreneurial curriculum was also evident. Students in an entrepreneurial curriculum seek to interact with ongoing ventures and often aim to do so through for-credit internship opportunities. Many entrepreneurial students also study abroad, suggesting key entrepreneurial courses every semester may be necessary to provide the maximum number of opportunities. In addition to traditional semesters abroad, universities across the nation are offering study abroad experiences related to social entrepreneurship. Arizona State University, Baylor University, Northeastern University, Pennsylvania State University and Portland State University1 all provide opportunities for students to develop skills related to international business and social entrepreneurship as they consult with local businesses and create solutions for local needs and challenges. Partnership with these schools by both small colleges and large universities is encouraged.
A few decades ago, Vesper31 addressed the issue of whether entrepreneurship could be taught, with 93% of the responding professors indicating the affirmative. Since then, entrepreneurship courses across schools have evolved. Cope5 suggests that, “entrepreneurial learning can be conceptualized as a dynamic process of awareness, reflection, association, and application,” with the utilization of knowledge often occurring at a time in the future (p. 387). Entrepreneurship courses, historically taken as electives in the final year of study, are now a mainstay of the business curriculum at both small colleges and large universities.
While experience-based opportunities and for-credit courses are necessary in an entrepreneurship program, they are not sufficient. Entrepreneurial aspirations can be found in students across academic disciplines, with Levenburg et al.17 suggesting that business schools look across the college or university campus to identify students who may join their own students to form interdisciplinary teams. At both Juniata and Pitt, faculty partnerships across disciplines were a powerful tool to enhance both experience-based opportunities and for-credit courses for students.
At a smaller school such as Juniata, many of the liberal arts courses are already interdisciplinary in nature, with some co-taught by faculty from different fields. This opened the door for the entrepreneurship program lectures and workshops covering one to three class periods for non-business courses. These mini-curricula were tailored for students in disciplines such as biology, chemistry, and the arts.
Due to the multi-school structure at Pitt, cross-listing courses across engineering, medicine, law, and/or business is an emerging tool being utilized in the entrepreneurship program. In addition, student venture advisory boards were encouraged, matching students with faculty experts from engineering, medicine, law, and business as they related to the venture’s industry.
Designated Advisory Boards
Advisory boards, while an under-researched area of entrepreneurship programs, are an important and influential resource for academic centers and business schools. Members of these boards, which average 12 in number, provide network connections, identify market and industry trends and serve as mentors.33 In addition, the board can help publicize a program’s accomplishments, increase the number of donors, and aid in the growth of a program’s influence and strength.20
The advisory board at the Juniata College Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership focused on student entrepreneurship initiatives; it was comprised of sponsoring directors, liaisons to the Board of Trustees, a member of the local business community and faculty and student representatives. The sponsoring directors each pledged at least 3 years of significant annual financial gifts, which served to support operations, as well as matching funds for grant support. The advisory board for the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence was focused on regional economic development; it was comprised of over two dozen experienced entrepreneurs from the region, with no student representation.
The collective lessons learned for interacting with these boards are two-fold. A focus on student entrepreneurship in the context of regional economic development provided specific financial resources and connections for the student entrepreneurs. In addition, the inclusion of trustees, faculty, students and a robust contingency of regional and alumni entrepreneurs provided an effective balance of theory and practice. Building innovative programs is a team activity,2 and engaged advisory boards can provide a synergistic energy for the creation of new entrepreneurship programs.
Bootstrapping, or growing a venture without outside funds, is a necessary process for most start-ups. This use of highly creative ways of acquiring capital without borrowing money or raising funds can bridge the gap until the venture develops a market-valued product or service.1,32 Much like the new business venture, new entrepreneurship programs go through a bootstrapping phase in the start-up and growth stages.
For programs that have large amounts of capital, such as Juniata’s Student Seed Capital Fund, program leaders should ensure that accrued interest from those accounts is deposited either back to that account or to another designated fund for student entrepreneurship program development. The same should be true of cash on hand for upcoming renovation projects related to incubator development or building renovation. For larger programs like at Pitt, where development officers often have multiple reporting lines, such as to institutional advancement as well as the specific school for which they work, one should ensure that gift and pledge payments articulate specific designation to student entrepreneurship activities.
While refined bootstrapping skills are necessary for those leading student entrepreneurship program development, leveraging the support of the institutional champions, faculty partners, and advisory board can provide not only channels to new dollars but also guidance on financial management during the start-up and growth period.
Entrepreneurship educators have an opportunity to learn from the entrepreneurship programs at both small colleges and large universities that have already sprouted up and experienced growth, challenges, failures, and ultimate successes. Programs that have contributed to the current entrepreneurship milieu can help leaders who are launching new programs or retooling existing ones, providing information to assist in defining their outcome objectives and refining their offerings.
As discussed above and outlined in Table 1, we see seven areas on which to focus. Identification of institutional champions (political, course, and administrative) is key, as is communication with members of the supply chain (directors in admissions, academic advising, career services, alumni, and development) during not only the implementation but also the planning stages of entrepreneurial program launch.
A range of non-credit, experience-based opportunities allows students to sample the entrepreneurial culture while increasing awareness of entrepreneurial career opportunities through real-life scenarios. We can then ensure the next offering of dynamic for-credit courses is engaging and pertinent by leveraging live case studies, undergoing periodic external reviews and ensuring coordination of content across new courses.
Finally, through faculty partnerships, designated advisory boards, and refined bootstrapping skills, we can round out the entrepreneurial programs with diverse and robust human and capital resources for program delivery, growth, and sustainability.
Over two decades ago, Hills10 countered an argument made by naysayers that entrepreneurship education was a passing fad. Twenty years later, this “fad” appears to have not only become a mainstay in higher education but also a driving factor for job creation and economic growth. The development and refinement of our academic student entrepreneurship programs will impact the lives of our current students, as well as the lives of all who are employed by, are customers of and are affiliated with their ventures in the decades to come.
http://www.northeastern.edu/studyabroad/programs/description/?id=132; http://ewasteatpsu.wordpress.com/; http://oia.pdx.edu/ea/details/international_field_experience_social_enterprise_in_urban_and_rural_india/; http://entrepreneurship.asu.edu/2011/03/29/creating-sustainable-community-ventures-ghana-study-abroad-summer-11; http://www.baylor.edu/business/entrep_africa/.
The author would like to thank Dan Mullen, Finance ’11, University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration for his support during the preparation of this paper.