As I write this, I am just returning from the annual conference of the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers, a group representing more than 200 universities worldwide. One of the sessions this year was on Student Start-Ups, and my colleagues spent considerable time discussing whether or not students who develop a business plan should actually launch a company, and if students who develop a business plan for a business still learn if they don’t actual start the business they develop.
Of course there was a range of opinion on this issue, but most agreed that the starting point of entrepreneurship education is opportunity assessment – do you actually have an idea that represents a viable business, and can it be structured in such a way to compete in the marketplace, generate revenue, possibly funding, and hopefully a profit. Ultimately, there is a continuum of action in determining the viability of a potential opportunity, and moving it towards launch. We hope to teach students about this continuum, and how best to determine how far to take it towards possible launch. Along the way, we want them to learn the skill sets of starting a new company, launching a new social enterprise, or creating a new product. They should be coached to do so using their own energy, intelligence, contacts and the best tools and methods in the field. Sometimes, this means evaluating an idea and then discarding it somewhere along the way, since it doesn’t appear to represent a viable enterprise, or the idea is not something about which the student can be passionate or leverage their own skills, interests and team to execute successfully. This itself is an important learning in entrepreneurship.
For other students, they may have a great business venture mapped out, do a great job presenting it, win our business plan competition or others we feed into, and be eligible to apply for possible seed funding, from our Launchpad Fund or other investor groups for some initial funding to launch it. Again, getting something to that place in the continuum is a significant accomplishment, even if the business isn’t ultimately launched.
In a few cases, everything lines up for students to actually succeed in developing a business that is sufficiently viable, about which they are personally excited, around which they have developed a good starting team, and for which they are able to raise start-up capital or decide to bootstrap it themselves. Our responsibility as educators, mentors, advisors is to make sure all students know how to launch a business, pitch for funding, and organize a legal entity and governance structure should they decide to launch, and that the resources available in the Franz Center facilitate this process from idea to first product sale.
Ironically, as all businesses seek employees, managers and leaders with an “entrepreneurial mindset”, some of those most prone to launch a venture, are also those most in demand upon graduation. I am reminded of the group of graduate entrepreneurship students I met last year at IBMEC, a top business school in Brazil. When I asked why they wanted to study entrepreneurship, one young man replied, “so we can get the best jobs in the fast growing Brazilian economy.”
To me, this tension enhances the value of the education we are offering, making students successful in a changing world, whether in their own endeavor or another enterprise. In today’s world, most will have occasion to do both many times in the course of their career!