Inside the Ivory Tower
“The best way to predict the future is to create it,” said Peter Drucker, the management consultant, educator, and author whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation.
If you, your kids, or your employees are determined to follow in his footsteps, finding the best path to take to create the future of your dreams often starts with a good education.
But just how good are the nation’s top programs for entrepreneurs? To find out, we interviewed 10 professors and students, who give us the inside scoop.
Scroll down to learn what they have to say.
The following lists, originally reported in September 2012, are reprinted with permission of The Princeton Review.
BABSON COLLEGE: #1 undergraduate, #1 graduate program
Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship
Babson Park, MA 02457
Phone: (781) 239-5522
Professor Heidi Neck
Associate Professor and the Jeffry A. Timmons Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies
With extensive classroom teaching experience with both undergraduate and MBA students at Babson, Heidi Neck is the faculty director of the Price-Babson SEE program, which has enrolled more than 3,000 entrepreneurship educators for an intensive four-day teaching workshop. She is also the director of the Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab, a national applied research project that seeks to better understand the experience of entrepreneurs of all kinds in order to design and develop better support program for today’s entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and holds a BS in Marketing from Louisiana State University and an MBA from the University of Colorado. Her new book, “Teaching Entrepreneurship: A practice-based approach,” is due out next year.
Here’s Neck advice:
What is the most important thing you try to teach your students about being an entrepreneur? That fit and desire is the antecedent to action. Fit is about answering the questions: Who are you? What do you know? Whom do you know? By answering these questions, an aspiring entrepreneur will have a better understanding of his or her existing resource base upon which immediate action can be taken. It’s not thinking about what you need to start a venture. It’s about starting with what you have and building from there. Desire is about understanding your “want to’s.” It’s a lower bar than passion, but desire gives you the energy to keep going. Desire in conjunction with fit is the platform for entrepreneurial action.
What advice could you give someone aspiring to become an entrepreneur who does not have an entrepreneurship-focused education or degree? Find a tribe and join. In most cities you will find tribes of entrepreneurs helping one another out. Other entrepreneurs are great mentors and collaborators. Finding them and learning with them will further your education. Entrepreneurship is a discipline that requires practice.
Do you think enough business schools across the country have effective entrepreneur programs, or should more schools expand the major? What makes the program at your school better than other programs across the country? I don’t think we can ever have enough strong entrepreneurship programs because entrepreneurship is a life skill that can have a positive impact on all students. Babson is unique for the following reasons:
- We have a college-wide approach to entrepreneurship called Entrepreneurial Thought & Action®—it’s a method of entrepreneurship that requires practice. We build practice into our curriculum.
- Students are in classes around 15 hours a week, but we take what is going on in the other 153 hours very seriously. Babson has a focus on helping students live entrepreneurially. This includes accelerators, entrepreneurship-specific dorms, clubs, competitions, partnerships with angels and VCs—an entire educational ecosystem around entrepreneurship.
- We have a broad definition of what entrepreneurship is—it’s not simply about starting a new venture. It’s about creating and taking action in various contexts.
- Entrepreneurship is a required subject for 100 percent of our students (grad and undergrad).
What was it like going from being an entrepreneur to becoming a professor teaching future entrepreneurs? Invigorating.
Which aspects of your career help you most as a teacher trying to convey your ideas to aspiring entrepreneurs? It’s less about the subject matter. Information is a commodity, so “how one teaches” becomes the most important part of inspiring aspiring entrepreneurs. So, it’s my experience as a teacher and the methods I’ve developed that allow my students to actually practice aspects of entrepreneurship inside and outside of the classroom. If we don’t pay attention to how we teach, then the class simply becomes a war story. Students are investing too much in education to hear war stories. I’m currently writing a book called, “Teaching Entrepreneurship: A practice-based approach” that I hope will help other educators.
Babson Student Emily Lagasse
Emily Lagasse is a current MBA student at Babson College currently launching a dog food company, FedWell, and running a non-profit providing micro-loans to students in Togo, West Africa.
What makes the program at your school effective at teaching entrepreneurship? The solid core curriculum in the Babson MBA program ensures that every student will have a solid foundation to start a business. For example, I consider myself a more creative, marketing-focused person, but as a business owner, it is imperative that I know about accounting. The required core classes make me a more well-rounded entrepreneur. I am just as comfortable reading a financial statement as I am identifying the target market for my product. In addition to entrepreneurship-specific electives, like “Managing a Growing Business,” Babson also has a wide-reaching network of professor and alumni entrepreneurs who provide great support for student-run businesses.
What are your plans for your career regarding becoming an entrepreneur after graduation? Babson encourages students to be entrepreneurs early and often. I started my dog-food business, FedWell, prior to coming to Babson, but felt I would be more successful with a Babson education. With the help of Babson peers and mentors, I now feel ready and confident for the launch of my business in the fall of 2013.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a student? The most important thing I have learned is to get out of the comfort of my office, talk to people, and question the assumptions I have made about my business.
Why did you decide to choose entrepreneurship as your focus of study? I like the challenge of building something from nothing, but also the opportunity to continuously learn about various aspects of my business.
Do you feel you could be prepared to run your own business right out of school? Yes! I feel prepared to run my own business while earning my MBA, and Babson has given me the support, resources, and tools to do so effectively and efficiently.
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: Ranked #2 graduate program for entrepreneurship
Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies
701 Tappan St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Phone: (734) 763-5796
Tuition: $55,194 (In-state: $50,194)
Professor Tom Frank
Executive Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering
University of Michigan
Tom Frank is an entrepreneurial executive with more than 25 years of leadership building top-tier companies in the advertising, entertainment, and technology sectors. Frank began his career with Procter & Gamble and went on to senior roles at Dick Clark Productions and RealNetworks. His experience makes Frank one of a handful of true “digital media experts” due to his global accomplishments in content production, licensing, and marketing across all distribution platforms in both traditional and IP-based broadcast channels. Frank received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Cincinnati.
What is the most important thing you try to teach your students about being an entrepreneur? The most important thing we try to teach our students is an understanding that the core principles of entrepreneurship—such as identifying and solving problems coupled with determination and perseverance—will be important skills for every career choice going forward. Entrepreneurial skills are not only for those seeking to start their own companies one day.
What advice could you give someone aspiring to become an entrepreneur who does not have an entrepreneurship-focused education or degree? As someone who became an entrepreneur but did not have a focused degree in business, science, or engineering … my advice is as follows:
- Challenge yourself as to your motive and purpose. Why do you want to start your own business or company? It is important not to let perceived short-term benefits—like “be my own boss“—drive what will potentially be the most difficult personal and professional challenge you will face.
- What are you prepared to sacrifice to achieve your goals? Make a list.
- Surround yourself with the best people you can find. When it comes time to build a team, always look to hire a step above.
- Use common sense. Many of the skills required to run a successful business are the same skills you learned earlier in life. Be a good listener. Think before you act. Weigh your alternatives in any decision-making process.
- Most important. Trust your “gut.” It’s a cliché because it’s true. If it doesn’t feel right, then don’t do it. That doesn’t mean to confuse internal warning systems with fear, because “fear” is a natural and continuing part of the entrepreneurial experience.
Do you think enough business schools across the country have effective entrepreneur programs, or should more schools expand the major? What makes the program at your school better than other programs across the country? Our program is a joint effort between the College of Engineering and The Ross Business School. I don’t have an opinion as to what other universities should or should not do beyond making best efforts to provide the programs their students want or need. I also don’t like the word “better” although I can offer an opinion about what makes our program unique.
The University of Michigan has top-rated colleges across many different degree areas. This allows us the opportunity to develop programs that leverage talent from virtually every area of specialization coupled with access to all types of industry, including the obvious areas like software development, clean tech, and medical research, but also areas like manufacturing and service-oriented businesses, which have long been part of Michigan’s business heritage. It’s all here. We also give students the opportunity to explore a Certificate in Entrepreneurship as undergraduates and follow through with a Masters In Entrepreneurship as a more focused program for graduate students.
What was it like going from being an entrepreneur to becoming a professor teaching future entrepreneurs? I have not technically “taught” our students because I’m sure I would not pass the high standards Michigan sets for our faculty. I spend a good deal of time counseling students who have ideas for companies or are at some stage in the start‐up life cycle. I find these interactions very compelling. Being around the students is energizing. It can also be quite humbling. The first time I was asked to give a lecture at our student incubator, TechArb, I ignored the advice of my team to prepare comments on the specific topic of “go-to-market strategies.” I demurred and said I would speak extemporaneously and engage the students through sheer wit and charm. I learned the hard way during that lecture how Michigan students hold everyone—including faculty and staff—to the same standard of excellence we expect from them. Next time I will give the prepared talk I’m told to give.
Which aspects of your career help you most as a teacher trying to convey your ideas to aspiring entrepreneurs? I think most of my guidance to students is grounded in real‐world experience. I can anchor my examples in real stories and real outcomes both good and bad, based on some of the theories they are learning as part of their core curriculum.
I’ve spent much time developing and building teams. This helps me understand the simple human dynamics of how people react and interact in various stages of entrepreneurship. This is also an important skill in leveraging very different talent from multiple areas of expertise. I’ve learned how to give people a sense of control over their responsibilities and their careers. Students deserve this same guidance. I also have a pretty deep background in connecting students to the importance of accountability and taking ownership for their actions. Finally, I still know how to dream and find nothing more electrifying than a conversation with another dreamer. Entrepreneurs all speak the same language to one degree or another.
Student Manish Parikh
University of Michigan
Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies
Manish Parikh is a graduating senior at the University of Michigan pursuing a dual degree in Business and Political Science. He was elected student body president in his senior year of college. In that capacity he was instrumental in helping to create numerous entrepreneurship resources for the student body, including the nation’s first Entrepreneurship Commission, which brought together the president of all UM’s 18 entrepreneurial student organizations, and the first-ever university-wide “Month of Entrepreneurship,” which was recently recognized and featured by the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. He is currently working at UM’s Center For Entrepreneurship, where he is continuing his work with fostering campus-wide entrepreneurship at the university.
Here’s Parikh’s advice:
What makes the program at your school effective at teaching entrepreneurship? Entrepreneurship at Michigan is very much like our football stadium, “The Big House” (the world’s largest football stadium)— it’s of giant scale, and it is interdisciplinary in the sense that it includes students from all sorts of majors, and from all of our nationally ranked 18 schools and colleges. Our “Month of Entrepreneurship,” where we devote an entire calendar month to entrepreneurship and innovation, was recently recognized and featured by the White House. Thus, besides the amazing classes and professors, we have some of the most stunning “extracurricular” opportunities for Michigan Wolverines. For me personally, these extracurricular opportunities relating to entrepreneurship are what have defined my college experience.
What are your plans for your career regarding becoming an entrepreneur after graduation? I would like to work with the university, and potentially the state government, to help foster and create entrepreneurial ecosystems. Personally, I’m most thrilled with being able to design and execute policy that impacts the lives of and opportunities for entrepreneurs. Perhaps someday in the not-too-distant future, I’ll take the plunge and launch a start-up of my own!
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a student? What do you feel like you haven’t learned? Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from Michigan entrepreneurship is the importance of execution, and the balance between thinking and ideating versus doing and executing. Prior to Michigan, I always thought that successful entrepreneurs owe 95 percent of their success to a brilliant idea, and 5 percent to the way they execute that idea. Today I’m certain that it’s the other way around!
What I still haven’t learned completely (and this is something that can only be gained with experience) is the art of being able to evaluate business ideas perfectly and consistently. Often for us young entrepreneurs, our passion, youth, and ambition can outweigh our expertise and experience!
Why did you decide to choose entrepreneurship as your focus of study? Entrepreneurship at Michigan is about big ideas; it’s about innovation and using an entrepreneurial mindset to solve society’s biggest problems. Michigan is nationally recognized as one of the hubs of student‐driven entrepreneurship, and the ability to craft my own future, to help affect the futures of others, to help make this world a better place, is what has always attracted me towards Michigan entrepreneurship!
Do you feel you could be prepared to run your own business right out of school? If I were to launch a business in the near future, I know that I will have advice and access to Michigan’s network of trailblazing entrepreneurs and innovators, I will have access to resources and funding, I will be able to build a team of some of the best young minds in the nation, and Michigan would have positioned me in the direction of success. Whether I succeed or not depends in large part on many variables, including the size of the industry and the state of the economy. Yet, I can safely say that my chances of success would be far higher, having studied and experienced entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Ranked #4 undergraduate program
Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies
700 Childs Way, Los Angeles, CA 90089
Phone: (213) 740-1111
Online: www.usc.edu www.usc.edu
Professor David Belasco
Co-Director of The Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies
University of Southern California
Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies
Accomplished entrepreneur, lawyer, and media producer David Belasco started his career as a lawyer at Latham & Watkins. He started, built, and sold businesses in environmental clean-up and manufacturing. He currently serves as co-director of The Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC, CEO of Ditto Greetings, as well as board or director roles with Teach for America L.A., and The Show Me Campaign with John Legend. With his family, he founded Jazz on the Pond, an annual concert showcasing big-time performers to raise scholarships for talented musicians to attend college.
Here’s Belasco’s advice:
What is the most important thing you try to teach your students about being an entrepreneur? It’s the entrepreneurial mindset and skill set, whether you’re launching a new venture, joining an emerging company, or serving within an established business.
What advice could you give someone aspiring to become an entrepreneur who does not have an entrepreneurship focused education or degree? A degree doesn’t make you an entrepreneur—action does. Surround yourself with mentors and experienced entrepreneurs who can provide objective advice, make introductions, and steer you away from making big mistakes.
Do you think enough business schools across the country have effective entrepreneur programs, or should more schools expand the major? What makes the program at your school better than other programs across the country? There are plenty of good entrepreneur programs. USC is among the oldest entrepreneur programs in the world and has been producing successful grads and companies for 40 years.
We are located in L.A., the entertainment capital of the world, so our program has deep experience at the convergence of tech, media, and digital businesses. Hollywood isn’t going anywhere, and USC has a competitive advantage and access to studios, talent, and premium content. Add to that our world-renowned cinema school, and we’re quite strong in entertainment-related ventures.
At USC, we possess deep experience, resources, and geographically advantageous connections to the Pacific Rim, with strong ties and relationships throughout Asia. Most of our students travel to China, Hong Kong, Japan, or Asia as part of their degree.
What was it like going from being an entrepreneur to becoming a professor teaching future entrepreneurs? I began my career as a lawyer at a Wall Street firm, then left to start and build two businesses, which we sold in 2007. I began teaching in 2003 because it was fun and I wanted to make an impact on others. As much as I enjoy business, nothing compares to the purity of teaching and mentoring. As a part-time director, I have the best of both worlds—teaching and remaining active as an entrepreneur. I’m currently the CEO of Ditto Greetings, an online platform that allows you to turn video clips of your favorite movie and TV shows into online greetings in a fun and seamless way. We’ve signed deals with studios and content owners and are launching shortly. You’ll love it.
Which aspects of your career help you most as a teacher trying to convey your ideas to aspiring entrepreneurs? Walking your talk. I’ve started, built, and sold businesses. And I dived back in to do it again. I can relate to the feelings and fears of being an entrepreneur and can help students embrace and welcome those feelings. I enjoy public speaking and mentoring, so those come in handy in teaching.
USC Student Brett Klivans
University of Southern California
Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies
Brett Klivans currently resides in Woodland Hills, CA, where he operates his tutorial business. Brett is studying both Economics and Entrepreneurship and graduates in December 2013. He hopes to attain his MBA after graduation and then plans to work on more entrepreneurial endeavors of his own.
What makes the program at your school effective at teaching entrepreneurship? A very wise professor put a quote on the board, the first day of school, which has stuck with me: “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” The Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurship emphasizes the importance of hands-on experience. Entrepreneurs throughout the community are invited to share their entrepreneurial journey with the students followed by a Q&A. The creative curriculum and energetic faculty and staff are an integral component. An entrepreneurial course is not the typical class structure and encompasses many subject matters. One entrepreneurial class was able to raise thousands of dollars in a single class thanks to the initiative and inspiration of an outstanding professor. And similar to the show “Shark Tank,” I got to judge an entrepreneurial competition at a local high school and provide seed funding to the contestants on behalf of the organization.
What are your plans for your career regarding becoming an entrepreneur after graduation? I will continue to operate my tutorial business and work on scalability. What once began as a nonprofit community-service activity has now become one of my greatest accomplishments. The reality that not all business endeavors are successful is a fact of life. But as my mom told me growing up, which I’ve since discovered is a paraphrase of Nietzsche’s famous quote, “What does not kill you can only make you stronger.”
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a student? To get started now. A lot of people wait for that perfect idea, the opportune time, etc. Leaders do not make excuses, so if you want something in life, you must be assertive and work for it.
Why did you decide to choose entrepreneurship as your focus of study? Entrepreneurship amalgamates the curriculum from many business-related majors into a single focus. Ideas come a-dime-a-dozen—it is what one does with it that matters. To bring an idea to fruition and make a dream into a reality is why I wanted to study in this program.
Do you feel you could be prepared to run your own business out of school? Yes and no. I am running my own business now and will continue to when I graduate this December, but I still want to continue my education to attain my MBA before launching my first IPO. I want nothing more than to run multiple businesses of my own; however, attaining my MBA is a personal milestone that I feel I must achieve first. So, yes, the Marshall School of Business has prepared me to run my own business out of school. And, no, I want to continue my education and have an MBA under my belt before I turn anything public.
BRIGHAM YOUNG: Ranked #6 for undergraduate, #3 graduate program
Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology
470 Tanner Building, Marriott School of Management, Provo, UT 84602
Phone: (801) 422-2507
Stephen W. Liddle, PhD
Brigham Young University
Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology
Information Systems Department, Marriott School
Dr. Stephen W. Liddle is academic director of the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology and professor of Information Systems. He teaches mobile app and web development, and other topics related to the practical application of information systems in business. Liddle joined the Marriott School faculty in 1995, when he received his PhD in Computer Science from BYU. Liddle has authored or co-authored more than 50 refereed academic papers. A prolific software developer since age 14, Liddle often claims there is little he enjoys more than a good old “coding frenzy.”
What is the most important thing you try to teach your students about being an entrepreneur? I teach my students that they need to shift their thought process from “old-style” to “new-style” thinking. They need to test their hypotheses early and often, focus on developing customers before products, and validate everything they do. I love the work Steve Blank, Nathan Furr, Alex Osterwalder, and others have done in promoting a new style of entrepreneurship education. Too many start-ups have wasted too much money developing products that will never fly in the marketplace. Too many start-ups attempt to scale the business before they’ve validated their business models.
What advice could you give someone aspiring to become an entrepreneur who does not have an entrepreneurship-focused education or degree? A student who wants to become and entrepreneur but doesn’t have an entrepreneurship-focused education should start by:
1. Working at someone else’s start-up if possible,
2. Attending as many “meet-up” networking events as possible, and
3. Participating in the strong online community of entrepreneurs.
I think they’ll soon figure out whether they really want to be an entrepreneur. I would add this caution: not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.
What makes the program at your school better than other programs across the country? BYU’s entrepreneurship program has a nice blend of curricular and co-curricular elements. We have great classes for students who want to major in entrepreneurship or who want to explore starting a company while they’re still in college. But we also provide outstanding mentoring for our student entrepreneurs so they can learn from successful role models who have “been there, done that”; our mentors help students avoid pitfalls that would ruin their start-ups. We also have a series of competitions that incentivize the students to start something while they’re in school and thus learn by doing.
What aspects of your career help you most as a teacher trying to convey your ideas to aspiring entrepreneurs? It’s the same as what we tell our students: You need something beyond the classroom to be successful at entrepreneurship. You need to engage, go do something. I stay active in software development through my research and teaching activities (for example, I’ve been teaching mobile app development for several years now). A few years ago I did a sabbatical with a local tech start-up firm and worked as their CTO. I was able to bring many lessons back into the university environment from that experience that continue to influence my teaching and our curriculum. Entrepreneurship is a discipline that is difficult (perhaps impossible) to teach effectively from a purely theoretical perspective.
Here’s Parkin’s advice:
What makes the program at your school effective at teaching entrepreneurship? Brigham Young focused on providing us with strong mentors, effective learning objectives (nail it and scale it principles), and gave us access to world-class business competitions.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a student? My focus was Business Management with an emphasis on Marketing. Entrepreneurship is my passion. At school, I learned to “work hard now in order to play hard later,” and I also learned to be much more patient with myself.
Do you feel like you could be prepared to run your own business right out of school? Yes, I do. I’m not perfect by any means, and I know I will continue learning the rest of my life, but I believe in myself and in my team. I plan to continue to move my company, Inviroment, forward while working part-time to help pay the bills.
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: Ranked #7 graduate program
Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship
5807 South Woodlawn Ave., Chicago, IL
Phone: (773) 702-7369
Steven Neil Kaplan
Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance
University of Chicago
Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship
BusinessWeek named Steven Neil Kaplan one of the top 12 business school teachers in the country. Good news for the students in his advanced MBA and executive courses in entrepreneurial finance and private equity, corporate financial management, corporate governance, and wealth management. He has testified before the US Senate Finance Committee and the US House Financial Services Committee about his research, including work he did at the National Bureau of Economic Research and as an associate editor of the Journal of Financial Economics. Kaplan received his AB, summa cum laude, in Applied Mathematics and Economics from Harvard College and earned a PhD in Business Economics from Harvard University.
Here’s Kaplan’s advice:
What is the most important thing you try to teach your students about being an entrepreneur? There are many things I try to teach my students. They come in three primary buckets. And those three buckets amount to ways to increase the likelihood that a start-up succeeds and reduce the likelihood that it fails.
How do you do that? First, make sure that the opportunity you are pursuing has potential. Is there a big enough market? Are customers interested in your product / service? Does your business have any key differentiators / barriers to entry?
Second, make sure that your team has the capabilities to make the opportunity happen. Does your team have the necessary industry and functional knowledge? If not, how are you going to get that?
Third, make use of your network. Who in your network can help make the opportunity or the team better?
What advice could you give someone aspiring to become an entrepreneur who does not have an entrepreneurship-focused education or degree? The advice is the same as the advice I give my students. The advantage of an educational institution like Chicago Booth is that it teaches the concepts for analyzing opportunities and comes with a fantastic network.
Do you think enough business schools across the country have effective entrepreneur programs, or should more schools expand the major? I think a number of business schools have effective entrepreneurship programs. And many business schools have been putting additional resources into those programs to make them better. I think that bodes well for the future of entrepreneurship in this country (and elsewhere as many of our students are from overseas).
What makes Chicago Booth’s entrepreneurship program stand out? We have a terrific combination of classroom courses and experiential courses. The classroom courses are taught by a mix of researchers (including me) and practitioners (including our executive director, Ellen Rudnick, and two of Groupon’s co-founders, Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky). That mix combines the valuable perspectives of top-notch researchers and successful practitioners.
And we have a wide variety of classes that includes new venture strategy, entrepreneurial selling, entrepreneurial finance, digital marketing, and building new ventures. Along with the traditional classroom courses, we have innovated with a very successful group of experiential courses in which the students get hands-on experience with entrepreneurship.
Tell us about the New Venture Lab. Students work on a project for a start-up. In the Private Equity and Venture Capital Lab, students work as interns with venture capital firms and get hands-on experience as investors. We have just initiated a D4 Lab in which we create interdisciplinary teams of students and teach them a new set of tools / methods to identify opportunities for innovation in complex problem areas (in this case, healthcare and education); and come up with early-stage ideas / solutions that they can begin to test and prototype.
What happens in your keystone experiential course, the New Venture Challenge? The NVC is a business creation competition that we run as a course. The structured process for the NVC is powerful and productive. In a nutshell, we screen for promising ideas; we then introduce those promising ideas and teams to our network; we provide brutal, but constructive feedback on the ideas to the teams; and we impose tight deadlines. This process has had fantastic results. Our former NVC teams have raised well over $200 million in venture capital funding in the last four years. These include: GrubHub (from Benchmark Partners); Braintree Payments (from Accel); Benchprep (from NEA and Lightbank); Future Simple / Base (from Index and OCA); and Bump (from Sequoia). I do not know of any other business creation competition that has had teams funded by such top VC firms over this same period.
What was it like going from your previous career to becoming a professor teaching future entrepreneurs in 1988? I went from being purely a research professor in finance to one who also teaches future entrepreneurs. What I have learned is that it is very difficult to succeed. There are many, many ways for an entrepreneur to fail.
There is an old saying, “Good judgment comes from experience; experience, that comes from bad judgment.” I have had my share of learning from experience (and expect I will do more of it in the future). One thing I can help students with giving them the benefit of my experience by pointing out potential pitfalls. In that way, students can avoid making mistakes and, therefore, reduce the likelihood that they fail.
Which aspects of your career help you most as a teacher trying to convey your ideas to aspiring entrepreneurs? Two aspects help. First, as a researcher, I am trained to analyze problems. This is very important in identifying good entrepreneurial opportunities. Second, the more you teach entrepreneurship and create new entrepreneurs, the bigger and more effective your network becomes.
After almost 20 years of the New Venture Challenge, the Chicago Booth network is now extremely powerful.
Borna Safabakhsh is co-founder and CEO of AgileMD. He is a software entrepreneur with an MBA from Chicago Booth, and a BS and MS in computer science from Georgia Tech. Formerly a software developer and architect at IBM and Lockheed Martin, he has built five new products and developed technologies that have been filed for eight patents.
What makes the program at your school effective at teaching entrepreneurship? Entrepreneurship is at its core a multidisciplinary skill set, and Chicago Booth brings to bear a rare teaching strength across every discipline of business in both classroom and hands-on applied projects, and a unique ability to contextualize these lessons to both an entrepreneurial and mature company context. In my case, that means understanding how to market and sell new products in theory and by actually selling them, understanding how investors view start-ups by learning finance from top-notch faculty and by working with a venture firm, practicing leadership and negotiations, etc, etc. By graduation, I had worked through and studied enough cases in entrepreneurial finance that I was fully prepared and knowledgeable to negotiate our first round of funding.
What are your plans for your career regarding becoming an entrepreneur after graduation? Throughout my second year in school (2011), my goal was to start a company during the school year that I could then dive into full-time after graduation. With the support of my program, we were able to secure initial funding through the New Venture Challenge at Chicago Booth, and I was accepted into the Y-Combinator incubator, which was just what we needed for our start-up, Agile Diagnosis. For many students, it’s challenging to synchronize all the moving pieces of a start’up and a business school curriculum, but Booth was very flexible in allowing me and my co-founders to complete our program while having a running start with our company.
Do you feel like you could be prepared to run your own business right out of school? Yes. While more experience would no doubt help, I’ve found the fastest way to learn is to do so in situ, and surround oneself with phenomenal advisors.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a student? Every discipline has important lessons, but the most unexpected for me was the importance of management psychology and lessons regarding our natural biases in decision-making. Half of entrepreneurship is building strong teams, and an unexpected lesson was just how powerful the situations we create for our employees can be in driving their behavior.
What haven’t you mastered? I haven’t learned enough about entrepreneurial marketing. I underestimated its importance, and only took a few classes, and looking back, would have loved to build the same level of strength for marketing that I did in finance, operations, and management.
Why did you decide to choose entrepreneurship as your focus of study? Entrepreneurship is a personal life choice, as much as it is a career choice. I enjoy the zealous commitment to a vision, and the autonomy to pursue that goal the best way I know how each day.
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: Ranked #10 undergraduate program
Center for Entrepreneurship
1000 Asp Ave., Norman, OK 73019-4076
Phone: (405) 325-2252
Tuition: $18,978 (In-state: $7,340)
James M. Wheeler
Co‐Founder and Stanley White Executive Director
Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Oklahoma’s Price College of Business
Since co-founding the Center for Entrepreneurship in 2002, Jim Wheeler has worked with nearly 3,000 students, teaching them how to start, run, and grow their own business. Previously, Wheeler was a sports media, marketing, and licensing entrepreneur whose work included the Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup, and Collegiate Athletics. He also created a multimillion‐dollar joint venture with ISL Worldwide. And in 1999, he initiated, created, and sold a $4 billion bid for NCAA commercial rights—marking the first time a non‐network broadcaster was considered for the entire rights package.
Here’s Wheeler’s advice:
What is the most important thing you try to teach your students about being an entrepreneur? The path to becoming a successful entrepreneur is not always clear—nor are the paths all the same. Therefore, we try to focus on building skill sets: problem solving, opportunity identification, resource gathering, building frameworks for decision making, execution, etc.—not regurgitation. Regurgitation has served the students well in the educational history, but the business world doesn’t reward it, nor does my program.
What advice do you give someone aspiring to become an entrepreneur who does not have an entrepreneurship-focused education or degree? Join a start-up or an early-stage entrepreneurial venture. Experience the process. Our pedagogical approach is simulating the entrepreneurial environment. If someone doesn’t have the opportunity to participate in a degree program, join a start-up and immerse yourself into the journey.
What was it like going from being an entrepreneur to becoming a professor teaching future entrepreneurs? Immensely rewarding, but I sometimes miss the 24/7 feeling of running my own business. I stay connected with advisory boards and consulting, but I miss the laser-like focus of launching and growing an entrepreneurial venture.
What aspects of your career help you most as a teacher trying to convey your ideas to aspiring entrepreneurs? I can teach the students the basic skills of business models, value propositions, raising money, generating customers, steps to profitability, etc. The biggest challenge I have is teaching students, particularly my undergraduates, leadership and team building. For most of their lives, the students have primarily been accountable to themselves. They have not had to motivate people to execute strategy or make hard decisions on firing people—even when the employees did nothing wrong, but the business was flawed, so they are no longer needed. Communication is challenging to teach the students as is the roles of organizational behavior.
Student Jeff Bissinger
President, Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization
University of Oklahoma-Price College of Business
From Plano, Texas, Jeff Bissinger is currently a junior studying finance and entrepreneurship at the University of Oklahoma. He is involved in several organizations on campus, including the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO), and has participated in several competitions. Bissinger is also a member of Beta Theta Pi, and an active board member of a nonprofit, Transition House, located in Norman.
What makes the program at your school effective at teaching entrepreneurship?
In addition to having experienced people teaching the courses at the University of Oklahoma-Price College of Business (OU), several groups and organizations on campus encourage entrepreneurial students to come up with new and creative ideas or to learn from individuals who have started their own businesses. OU also has several pitch competitions held throughout the year that challenge students to refine their ideas and business plans so they can match up against the best. There is even a program any business student can take called the Integrated Business Core where three or four teams create, market, and sell a product—all from scratch to raise money for charity. It allows the underclassmen to learn about the entrepreneurial spirit before even taking the classes for the major.
What are your plans for your career regarding becoming an entrepreneur after graduation? I have always seen myself as owning my own business one day, and I hope that through the entrepreneurship program I will get closer to that goal. While studying entrepreneurship and talking with professors, I have learned that a key aspect of the major is to go about thinking in a different way. Problem-solving is a valuable skill to have in the corporate world and is a key aspect of being an entrepreneur. When I graduate, I want to be able to find common problems with businesses and find ways to fix them with a business of my own.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a student? I have learned that there is no straight line to success. In order to be successful, you must overcome obstacles, which create learning experiences. It is how you handle those failures that make you successful. From listening to entrepreneurs talk about their businesses and how they got to where they are today, they always talk about how the hard times encouraged them to go about the situation in a different way, and how a few steps backward would lead to many more steps forward.
Why did you decide to choose entrepreneurship as your focus of study? When I was a kid, I would always try to find ways to make money over the summers. I had lemonade stands and I painted addresses on curbs outside people’s houses. When I decided to come to OU, I heard about the program and decided to pick Entrepreneurship as my major. Within the first month of my freshman year, I got involved in the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, the club for entrepreneurship majors, and learned a lot from businesses owners in the Oklahoma area. Since then I have been extremely fascinated with owning my own business and have tried to learn a lot more about the area.
Do you feel you could be prepared to run your own business right out of school? After I take all the classes and listen to advice from many more entrepreneurs, I am sure that I will be able to start my own company when I graduate. Being an entrepreneur is all about learning from the mistakes of others. I know that listening to countless speakers talk about all their roadblocks and how they got through them will help me with any problems that I might encounter. The professors teaching the courses are very helpful and knowledgeable about processes that should be taken and have experienced many of the common problems that young start-ups typically have. They also have an extensive network of individuals who have started their own companies who are willing to come to campus and talk about their experiences. Through the exposure I have been given to listen and learn from real entrepreneurs, I will have gone through many processes and situations already that will allow me to make the right decisions to get a company started right out of school.
James Simpson is the founder and CEO of GoldFire Studios, Inc., an Oklahoma City-based start-up that focuses on developing and distributing multiplayer online games for your browser. Simpson developed his first game at the age of 13, sold another at the age of 14, and has since sold eight businesses and started up countless others. More than 100 million people from nearly every country in the world have visited websites that he has created. He graduated with honors and as a National Merit Scholar from the University of Oklahoma in the spring of 2011. He also took GoldFire Studios through the first class of VentureSpur, a new start-up accelerator in Oklahoma City.
What makes the program at your school effective at teaching entrepreneurship? The program at OU goes beyond classroom work to provide more of a real-world entrepreneurial experience. In addition to participating in various business-plan contests, Entrepreneurship students at Oklahoma have the opportunity to meet and interact with current successful entrepreneurs in places like Austin, San Francisco, Italy, and elsewhere.
What are your plans for your career regarding becoming an entrepreneur after graduation? I actually founded my company, GoldFire Studios, while a sophomore in the Entrepreneurship program. It was just part-time through college, but after graduation I began working on the venture full-time and have since expanded the team to five, raised a seed round of funding, and opened an office in downtown Oklahoma City.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a student? The most important lesson I learned in school was the value of networking. I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of the connections I gained while attending OU and being part of this program. Obviously all of the business knowledge you gain from the classes is vital, but the need for those varies pretty dramatically from business to business. The one thing that remains a constant is needing to build your network to succeed.
I feel like there’s always more for me to learn, and every day is a new adventure. You can never learn all there is to know about entrepreneurship, and just like anything else, you have to practice at it. OU’s Entrepreneurship program gives you a vital base of knowledge and experience, but the only next step is to go out and do it yourself.
Why did you decide to choose entrepreneurship as your focus of study? I’ve been practicing entrepreneurship since I was very young, so OU’s Entrepreneurship program was a natural fit. I sold my first business at the age of 14 and have continued down that path ever since. I wanted to hone my skills running a business, so I selected Entrepreneurship as my major.
Do you feel you could be prepared to run your own business right out of school? I’m in a unique position because I had already started my own business and took the next step with that after graduation. However, even if I hadn’t, I still believe that OU’s Entrepreneurship program provided me with the background and networking needed to be successful in any kind of business straight out of school.
UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE — Ranked #20 undergraduate program in 2012; Ranked #18 in 2013
Center for Entrepreneurship
Tuition: $20,424 (In-state: $8,424)
Undergraduate Enrollment: 15,727
Van G.H. Clouse, Ph.D.
Cobb Family Professor of Entrepreneurship and Director
Forcht Center for Entrepreneurship
Van G.H. Clouse joined the University of Louisville in 1986 and teaches opportunity discovery, new venture creation, business plan development, business plan competition, corporate and global strategy, and business consulting. In 2012, Dr. Clouse was presented the UofL Trustees Award.
What is the most important thing you try to teach your students about being an entrepreneur?
- Follow your passion. Entrepreneurship is hard work and the journey is easier if you have passion for the idea you are pursuing.
- Draw on your domain expertise. If you are passionate about an idea and you already know something about the idea you are interested in, your chances for success are greatly enhanced.
- Ask for help. Most established entrepreneurs like to help aspiring entrepreneurs. If you ask, they will help!
What advice could you give someone aspiring to become an entrepreneur but who does not have an entrepreneurship focused education or degree? Most communities have great programs to help entrepreneurs get started. For instance, many communities have Startup Weekends Steve Blank’s Udacity course is a must. It is free and is the foundation of the curriculum. More info here.
What makes the program at your school better than other programs across the country? Many schools have adopted entrepreneurship education programs. We could always use more but we are in better shape now than 5 or 10 years ago.
At the University of Louisville, we offer a comprehensive suite of entrepreneurship programs at the undergraduate, MBA and Ph.D. levels. Our undergraduate and MBA programs are taught by experienced entrepreneurs with solid academic training. While theoretical concepts are important, we also stress experiential learning and continuously adapt our curriculum to stay relevant. For instance, we recently added the Lean LaunchPad curriculum to our Entrepreneurship MBA program.
Our Entrepreneurship Ph.D. program trains the entrepreneurship educators and researchers of the future. Each Ph.D. student works with our experienced entrepreneurship faculty and learns the latest experiential learning techniques.
What was it like going from being an entrepreneur to becoming a professor teaching future entrepreneurs? I was an experienced entrepreneur first and then decided to return to Clemson University to pursue my master’s degree then my Ph.D. degree. I believe I have the perfect combination of theoretical relevance and experience. I have the best job in the world because I am privileged to mentor the next generation of successful entrepreneurs.
What aspects of your career help you most as a teacher trying to convey your ideas to aspiring entrepreneurs? I’ve been there before and experienced the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. I strive to stay relevant with the leading entrepreneurship theories and practices and because I’ve been in the startup trenches myself, I’m able to connect with students who are at the beginning stage of their entrepreneurial journey.