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More schools teaching entrepreneurship.


A series of new pro grams in business schools and undergraduate colleges illustrates a growing trend in college-level education: teaching and encouraging entrepreneurship. Increasing numbers of private and public universities and hospitals offer formal programs that train students to spot spin-off opportunities of the type that led to the famous Route 128 in Massachusetts and Silicon Valley in California---or to develop disruptive advances in traditional corporations.

The trend has clear implications for large technology-based corporations in general and their research managers in particular. "Recruiting people with an entrepreneurial mindset is an almost necessary condition in a turbulent age," says Graham Mitchell, director of Lehigh University's Program in Entrepreneurship. But corporations that aim to recruit the brightest graduates with that mindset will find themselves in tough competition with start-up firms and other small companies that offer the graduates the opportunity to put their learning into practice immediately, without having to overcome the corporate red tape that often slows the application of new ideas and modes of thinking.

Entrepreneurship education is hardly a 21st century phenomenon. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hotbed of spin-offs that created the Route 128 phenomenon in the 1960s, started up its Entrepreneurship Center 16 years ago. Other research universities introduced their own courses in entrepreneurship during the 1990s. Even Harvard Business School, the epitome of education for future leaders of traditional corporations, has a mandatory course on entrepreneurship.

In the past two years, however, the pace has quickened significantly. According to the National Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers, about 160 academic centers now teach the subject. "I'd describe the situation more as a new phase in entrepreneurship education than a new awareness," says Jonathan Rosen, executive director of Boston University's Institute of Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (ITEC).

ITEC, created with the goal of "educating, training, mentoring, and providing networking programs and opportunities that support the new entrepreneur," illustrates the growing interest in providing students with an entrepreneurial mindset. So does Boston University's Entrepreneurial Research Lab. Run jointly by ITEC and the university's Office of Technology Development, it has just taken in the first participants in a program intended to stimulate creation of companies and to commercialize technology developed by university researchers.

Across the river in Cambridge, meanwhile, MIT has greatly expanded its offerings in entrepreneurship and education. In September 2006, its Sloan School of Management started a new program that adds a Certificate in Entrepreneurship & Innovation to the conventional M.B.A. degree. "We expected it to be a pilot test with 10 to 15 students," says Edward B. Roberts, the founder and chair of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center who heads the new program. "We had 130 out of about 300 students in the M.B.A. class apply for it." Roberts and his colleagues selected 50 students, half of whom had already been entrepreneurs, who will receive their certificates in May 2008.

Global Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship education is also going global. MIT has just received a gift of $50 million from the Dubai-based investment firm Legatum to create a Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship. The center has the goal of supporting aspiring entrepreneurs from the developing world.

What has stimulated the growing interest in entrepreneurship courses? Lehigh's Mitchell sees it as a natural outcome of recent years' turbulence that has changed the face of traditional employment. Today's college students, he says, "grew up seeing their parents losing what they had hoped would be long-lasting jobs and employment security, and so are more attuned to the increasingly rapid pace of changing market needs." Beyond that, he adds, "we're seeing something of an educational paradigm shift. Rather than sitting down for lectures in traditional topics, students are gravitating to learning experiences where they participate in teams and are motivated by solving novel problems."

ITEC's Rosen sees another characteristic in students who sign up for Boston University's courses in entrepreneurship. "Almost universally, they want to make a contribution--to take responsibility and learn how to analyze risk," he says. "Regardless of whether they're going into private practice as a dentist, setting up a clinic in Zimbabwe, or going to work for Johnson & Johnson, all of them want to contribute. That requires management skills that are teachable."

What They Teach

What skills do entrepreneurship courses instill in their students? Each institution puts its own patina on its offerings. MIT's Sloan School, for example, offers about 35 courses in entrepreneurship. Three of those illustrate the breadth of teaching. "Global Entrepreneurship," Roberts says, "puts people into activities related to overseas." The most popular Sloan School course, it requires teams of five students to work in a foreign country for three weeks. The Social Entrepreneurship course, by contrast, "is very domestically oriented, telling students how to start up companies with a social focus," Roberts continues.

"And Developmental Entrepreneurship always focuses on the poorest of developing countries and often relates to making a difference in a developing society."

Boston University's Entrepreneurial Research Lab goes beyond the traditional priority of creating spinout companies. "We don't see formation of new companies as the end point in the opportunity to learn," Rosen says. "The Lab is very much dedicated to recent graduates of our program who have formed a company; they come back to help us design education for the next generation of entrepreneurship students. They expose our students to living case studies of people as they try to be successful."

At Lehigh, Mitchell emphasizes the entirety of the entrepreneurship experience. "We have students in engineering, science, business, and liberal arts," he explains. "Our approach is strongly centered around the notion that, whatever your major, there is an important set of viewpoints and attitudes to establish. We're talking about basic business skills and creative approaches that work in small startups, large traditional companies, not-for-profits, and the social context."

Intrapreneurship Too

Current courses don't ignore intrapreneurship, the creation of new units within the company context that is frequently referred to as corporate entrepreneurship. Rosen, for example, teaches a course with that title. And corporate research managers who want to hire scientists trained in entrepreneurship can take some consolation from another fact: Students in entrepreneurship courses don't necessarily found their own companies or join start-ups once they graduate. "Some say that they want to start a company, but not now," Rosen explains. "So we advise them first to work for a large corporation to learn operations, then move to a fast-growth mid-sized company to learn flexibility, and then go off to start their own venture to put the pieces together."

Roberts at MIT has a similar experience. "We tell the M.B.A.s in our course that we don't expect many of them to start their own companies straightaway," he says. "A small group will. A much larger group will go to rapidly growing companies that will give them the opportunity to learn on the job in ways that will help them to be entrepreneurs. The bigger group will go to work for the existing companies. GE and other vibrant companies will be attractive to some of our graduates."

Nevertheless, corporate executives must recognize that those graduates come with a mindset different from that of conventional employees. Entrepreneurs in training "need to realize that they are making a lot of decisions under great uncertainty," Mitchell points out. "They need to be comfortable with that, be prepared to give it their best shot, and be very alert to indications that they've got parts of it wrong. This is a major part of the learning experience. This management behavior is very different from the traditional ways of reacting to fully understood situations in a large corporation."

The recruitment of entrepreneurially minded employees thus puts added pressure on managers and other executives in research departments to create a welcoming ambience. "Particularly in the research environment, there comes a time when you need to ask whether you should focus on presently envisaged company strategy or look at new developments that can disrupt the market," Mitchell continues. "The issue of whether to support the company's existing strategy or to seek to change it has always been present in research. But more and more companies now have to confront this directly in the era of increasingly global competition. So they have a widespread need to recruit people with an understanding of the entrepreneurial process."


"We've had a lot of cases in which U.S. industries thought they were on top of the world ... and then suddenly they weren't."--Texas A &M agricultural economist Daniel Klinefelter, quoted in "How Brazil Outfarmed The American Farmer, "Fortune, Jan. 21, 2008, p. 106.

Peter Gwynne, contributing editor, in Boston, Massachusetts
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Title Annotation:PERSPECTIVES: Views and News of the Current Research-Technology Management Scene
Author:Gwynne, Peter
Publication:Research-Technology Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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