Idea Central

Today's entrepreneurship centers do more than support startups. They work with departments across the entire campus to produce not just entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurial thinkers equipped to bring their best ideas to life.
Idea Central

The Great Recession may have had near-catastrophic effects on the global economy, but it has been a big boon to at least one corner of business: entrepreneurship. Although the rate of new business creation is still below pre-2008 levels, the Millennial Generation’s interest in launching new business ideas is incredibly high. Fifty-four percent of young people born after 1980 are either interested in starting their own businesses or already have, according to the Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit in Kansas City, Missouri, that promotes entrepreneurship and innovation.

But universities are also realizing that entrepreneurship isn’t just about creating businesses, says Jeff Skinner, director of the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School in the United Kingdom. “We realize that not every student is going to start a business—and we don’t want them to. Otherwise, we’ll have thousands of founders out there and no teams. We also want to prepare students to assist other people’s ventures. I much prefer to say that we’re creating ‘entrepreneurial thinkers,’ not just ‘entrepreneurs.’”

This new attitude about entrepreneurial activity has led business schools to dramatically broaden the missions of their entrepreneurship centers. No longer limited to serving business students and startups, these centers are adopting new strategic roles that reach far beyond the business school to create courses, develop programs, and establish vibrant entrepreneurial cultures that span the entire university.

The Great Expansion

Part of creating entrepreneurial thinkers is designing programs that expose students to entrepreneurship in different ways, says Skinner. With that in mind, the Deloitte Institute is now working with Deloitte’s Social Pioneers Program, through which the firm provides support services to 20 social enterprises each year. In a pilot program, students will offer additional consultancy services to these enterprises. “Even if they don’t have their own ideas to develop, our students can experience what it’s like to manage entrepreneurial businesses,” says Skinner. “Becoming a founder isn’t the only way to get into entrepreneurship.”

In fact, for more entrepreneurship centers, the goal is to teach students to launch ideas, not just businesses, says Janet Strimaitis, director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. That change in mindset is still relatively new. Babson has long integrated entrepreneurship throughout its curriculum, but prior to 2009 the Blank Center focused its attention mainly on offering services to a narrow group of high-potential entrepreneurs. Four years ago, however, the center adopted a new approach it calls “Entrepreneurship of All Kinds.” It now offers more workshops, office space, and advising opportunities through its Butler Venture Accelerator Program to a wider range of students and alumni.

Since 2009, the number of students and alumni that Babson’s accelerator serves at one time has increased from 20 to more than 400. “We assess ourselves not on the number of high-potential ventures created, but on the skills and competencies our students learn in the classroom and in co-curricular activities,” says Strimaitis.

A similar change in approach is happening on an even larger scale at Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) in Mexico City, Mexico. Like Babson, ITESM has long required all of its approximately 12,000 students to take an entrepreneurship course, regardless of major. But the school is now implementing its biggest initiative yet: a curricular overhaul across all of the school’s 32 campuses, as well as the 30 campuses of its second academic brand, Universidad TecMilenio.

The goal is to infuse content related to entrepreneurship throughout every course and department, says Luis Arturo Torres, director of ITESM’s Eugenio Garza-Lagüera Institute for Entrepreneurship. The overhaul also will integrate into the new curriculum the activity of the system’s many accelerators, 100 business incubators, and 15 technology parks.

This year the institute, along with centers on each individual campus, trained the school’s 6,100 faculty members to integrate entrepreneurial problem-solving skills into their syllabi. “A physics professor could use the same projects in class, but perhaps he could require students to find their own resources, rather than providing them. Or he could ask them to identify the problem they must solve, rather than giving them the problem,” says Torres.  

The school wants to ensure that all of its students graduate with an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to take action. “We want our students to do more than just point out problems they see and ask someone else to solve them,” says Torres. “We want them to propose and implement solutions to the problems they see in their communities, whether by starting new companies, working in existing companies, implementing ideas, or even proposing new laws. If we don’t teach our students to be change agents, no one else is going to do it.”

Cultural Permanence

As these centers open themselves to larger audiences—from a wider range of disciplines and back-grounds—they’re also developing what their directors call “entrepreneurial ecosystems” at their universities. These ecosystems encompass a wide range of activities, including competitions, workshops, networking events, advising, curriculum development, and field trips. The true challenge is how to make such multifarious activities interconnect in ways that build momentum and become self-sustaining over time, says II Luscri, director of the Center for Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship (ICE) at Villanova Business School in Pennsylvania.

“The real question is, how does what we do become part of the permanent culture on campus?” Luscri asks. “How is it something that lives beyond myself, the dean, the president of the university, and all of the people who are engaged in supporting entrepreneurship on campus right now?”

One of the ICE Center’s answers to that question is Pitch Day, an event launched two years ago. At that time, center staff realized that the business school’s annual business plan competition and entrepreneurship course, the engineering department’s entrepreneur-ship course, and the university’s interdisciplinary mobile application course all ended with students pitching their ideas to panels of judges. To increase their impact, the center decided to combine them all into a single annual event.

Held in April, Pitch Day opens with a luncheon for all students, judges, faculty, and visitors before presentations begin and closes with a celebration and awards ceremony after the judging is complete. “Instead of bringing in ten judges to see 30 students make presentations, we now bring 250 students and 100 judges to campus,” says Luscri. “We’ve only held Pitch Day twice, but we make clear that it’s held every spring. That helps us communicate the permanence of this program.”

Diverse and Interdisciplinary

Villanova’s Pitch Day also accomplishes another important goal: It brings together a variety of disciplines, including business, computer science, and engineering. Luscri wants to find even more opportunities to work with other departments, including Villanova’s schools of law, engineering, nursing, and arts and sciences. The center most recently worked with Villanova’s School of Law to open a clinic where second- and third-year law students will offer legal advice related to entrepreneurial projects. “We will continue to align ourselves as a cross-campus, interdisciplinary center,” says Luscri. “That is a major shift for us.”

Creating more interdisciplinary offerings is also a top priority for Donald F. Kuratko, director of the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in Bloomington. Kuratko began his efforts to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem with a series of conversations with deans and faculty from each campus department. “I asked each dean, ‘When you hear the word entrepreneurship, what does it mean to you?’ Then I asked them what kinds of solutions would be most valuable to their schools.”

The dean of IU’s medical center, for example, told Kuratko he was most concerned about commercializing the technology developed in his laboratories, so the Johnson Center formed teams of MBA students to help the medical school take its best ideas to market. The dean of the Jacobs School of Music wanted his students to develop entrepreneurial mindsets, so the center helped the school develop Project Jump Start, a series of work-shops, networking events, advising opportunities, and competitions. And the dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs asked for the center’s assistance in developing a certificate of social entrepreneurship, open to both its students and Kelley students.

The Johnson Center also just spent three years working with other IU departments to create a university wide entrepreneurial certificate program. Three of the program’s five courses originate in the business school—each department that offers the certificate must design the other two to suit its discipline. Kuratko is now working with deans across campus to develop their specialized courses. The Johnson Center positions itself solely as a resource and research center for the university—it does no outreach to the external community. “With 45,000 students, our campus is a city in itself,” says Kuratko. “We focus on campus because that’s where we think our efforts are best spent.”

Like the Johnson Center, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneur-ship at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business in College Park is working to reach a more diverse audience. It’s in the process of creating an entrepreneur-ship minor designed to encourage entrepreneurship in all forms among students majoring in any discipline. And to attract more women and minorities to entrepreneurship, its staff is exploring ways to work with organizations such as historically black colleges and universities; TiE Silicon Valley, an organization focused on Indian American entrepreneurs; and Springboard Enterprises, a group dedicated to women entrepreneurs in technology.

“By working with organizations that already are supporting different groups, we can really target our services,” says Elana Fine, director of the Dingman Center. “We want to put ourselves in front of these audiences as much as we can, rather than just wait for them to walk through our door.”

Building Excitement

Embracing an interdisciplinary purpose brings a sense of excitement to a business school and its entrepreneurial center, says Bruce Bachenheimer, who directs the Entrepreneurship Lab (eLab) at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business. Opened in February 2012 in a building near New York City Hall, eLab’s purpose is not only to augment the school’s entrepreneur-ship curriculum with events and services, but also to bring together the schools of business, arts and sciences, health professions, education, and computer science and information systems in cross-disciplinary problem solving.

“I recently met with education students who want to develop new educational technologies to teach STEM subjects to New York City high school students—they call themselves ‘edupreneurs,’” says Bachenheimer. “We’re working with nursing students to help them collaborate with computer science students to develop mobile apps for the field of gerontology. Bringing together students from different colleges has been exciting.”

The Center for Entrepreneurship at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business opened earlier this year in partnership with New York City mayor Michael Bloom-berg. Fordham’s center includes the 30,000-square-foot Fordham Foundry, the school’s new incubator created in collaboration with the city’s Department of Small Business Services. The Foundry shares space with New York City Business Solutions, a nonprofit that provides resources, funding, and training to small business owners. The school admitted four entrepreneurs to the incubator earlier this year with plans to bring in three more this fall.

Although the center’s purpose is to serve the Fordham community, it also will perform outreach to the surrounding Bronx community, says center co-director Christine Janssen-Selvadurai. This fall, the school began offering workshops and boot camps to local business owners and those who’d like to start businesses. Eventually, the school might open its incubator doors to Bronx-based entrepreneurs.

Over the next year, Janssen-Selvadurai wants to increase the incubator’s capacity from 24 to 50 people, grow the center’s cadre of mentor volunteers, and add events to its calendar. “Our mission is to spark the idea that there are career paths other than corporate,” she says. “Our message is, ‘You can’t find a job? Then go out and create one for yourself. Then create one for somebody else.’ That’s how we’ll refuel this economy.”

From Success to Significance

With entrepreneurship in the spotlight on many campuses, entrepreneurship centers—and the business schools that support them—are moving to the forefront of campus activities. They’re doing so not just through courses and extracurricular programs, but also through research. “A big part of our institute’s mission is to fund more research in the areas of entrepreneurship and innovation,” says Skinner of the London Business School. “We want everything we do to be based on rigorous methods rather than received wisdom and war stories.”

That combination of academic rigor and entrepreneurial activity has helped the Johnson Center “cross the chasm” between business and other disciplines on the IU campus as well, says Kuratko. Deans and faculty from other disciplines who might once have seen business schools as symbols of greed now see them as partners in the search for solutions to their own challenges.“

We’ve translated the idea of ‘success’ to one of ‘significance,’” he says. “When I say that to business students, they tell me it changes their whole view of what they want to do in business. We’re now talking about making a difference in the world, and we’re using entrepreneurship as the vehicle to do that.”

That shift gives business schools a much wider-reaching role than ever before, he adds. “Business is the one discipline that can reach across every college and school on a campus and have true impact. We’re a discipline of significance.”