Entrepreneurship has been around for centuries, but now it’s something you can study in college. According to a study which was conducted on behalf of the Small Business Administration, 63 percent of male MBA alumni and 54 percent of female MBA alumnae have worked for, or founded, an entrepreneurial organization. Those who have taken entrepreneurship courses at the undergraduate level are highly represented with 36 percent of males and 31 percent of females working for small businesses.
The prevalence of students learning to become entrepreneurs contradicts the common perception that entrepreneurs are born – not made. Recent academic research supports the notion that becoming a successful entrepreneur is not based solely on your gene pool. A comprehensive study from the George Washington University School of Business[i] shows:
- Higher education levels in a country correlates with higher incidences of entrepreneurship
- Out of all socio-economic and institutional predictors of entrepreneurship, education is the strongest predictor
- An individual’s education level is positively correlated with success in starting a small business
This study was spearheaded by George Solomon, co-director of GW’s Center for Entrepreneurship Excellence, former director of the SBA’s Office of Special Initiatives, and one of the first individuals to earn a Ph.D. in entrepreneurship. According to Solomon, studying entrepreneurship formally teaches students how to be “creative and innovative and [come] up with a new way of doing business.”
There are now entrepreneurship concentrations at prestigious business schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, University of Virginia and many others ranked each year by U.S. News and World Report. The road to create these types of programs, however, was paved with obstacles. For example, Ed Roberts, a senior business professor at MIT since 1990, had to fight for 16 years to garner the support he needed to start the Entrepreneurship and Innovation program. Since he started the program in 2006, it has proven to be highly successful, expanding from one course to 30 courses, and growing its faculty from one professor to 20.
What else do schools of entrepreneurship teach? In general, they focus on fostering teamwork skills, innovative thinking, risk taking and optimism about the potential for success. More specifically, most programs are one year long and include courses on entrepreneurial environments and analysis, marketing new ventures and new venture finance. The cornerstone of most programs is the creation of a new venture plan for a business that is innovative and scalable. Students work with teams on formulating and validating a business concept, devising a go-to-market strategy, writing a business plan, securing funding and analyzing outcomes.[ii]
Finally, some schools offer specialized programs to meet varying entrepreneurial needs, such as teaching engineers how to sell the innovations they create; marketing approaches to artists and musicians and creating profitable ventures geared towards solving social problems for non-profit executives.[iii] Some universities have annual business plan competitions with awards ranging from less than $100,000 to more than $1 million at private universities such as Rice and Harvard.
How do students fare after they graduate from these programs? The following are examples of student entrepreneur success stories: MIT’s Entrepreneurship Center launched such successful startups as Firefly, which was purchased by Microsoft for $40 million, and Silicon Spice, which was purchased by Broadcom for $1.2 billion. And, while not all entrepreneurship students will go on to make millions of dollars, most would say that the chance of making a successful living doing what you love and having control over your destiny are worth the price of enrollment.
[i] Solomon, P., Weaver, G.T., & Weaver, M.K. (2008). “Entrepreneurial selection and success: does education matter?” Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development.
[ii] Shinnar, R., Pruett, J., & Toney, B. (2008).“Entrepreneurship education: attitudes across campus.” Journal of Education for Business, p. 151-158.
[iii] Mars, M., & Garrison, S. (May/June 2009). “Socially-oriented ventures and traditional entrepreneurship education models: A case review.” Journal for Education for Business, p. 290-296.