Learning to Fly
Entrepreneurial Education Takes Off
by Victoria Kidd - Assistant Director of Advancement Communications
At the end of February, Susquehanna University participated in the first-ever EntrepreneurshipWeek USA, a national initiative launched by the Kauffman Foundation to highlight the importance of entrepreneurial thinking in our society. A key figure in the week's events was Susquehanna University trustee Richard E. Caruso '65, founder and chairman of Integra LifeSciences Corp., who was named the national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2006.
The week was designed to help youth and young adults see themselves as entrepreneurial thinkers, using creativity and innovation to advance their adult lives. In describing the mission of EntrepreneurshipWeek USA, the Kauffman Foundation states that: “In today's environment, entrepreneurship permeates into very diverse areas of society, and entrepreneurial thinking people emerge through all sorts of routes and backgrounds. Entrepreneurial thinking is applied to non-business problems, and it is as relevant to public and volunteer organizations as it is to large corporations and small businesses.”
The University as Entrepreneurial Hub
The word entrepreneurship evokes images of Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison, self-made men with tremendous ambition and creativity but little formal education. This perception has led to the commonly-held belief that entrepreneurship cannot be taught. One is either born with the innate skills necessary to be a successful entrepreneur or is not. But over the past 30 years or so, a changing economy has thrown a monkey wrench into this assumption.
“What we are engaged in is nothing less than a U-turn in economic history. And the name we give this U-turn is the invention of entrepreneurial capitalism,” explained Carl J. Schramm, president and chief executive officer of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, during the Technology Transfer Society's annual conference in September 2005.
“The key actors in the drama have changed. You'll see coming to the fore an actor called universities, and the departure of an actor called organized labor. You will also see the new prominence of an actor called start-ups. That is essentially the story of American economic life today, and it will be the story of American economic life going forward if we are to remain successful,” he said.
This shift in the American economy has prompted the Kauffman Foundation to undertake an aggressive campaign to promote and support entrepreneurship as a new academic field of study. Judith Cone, vice president of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, explains why in her article “Teaching Entrepreneurship in Colleges and Universities: How (and Why) a New Academic Field is Being Built.”
“The modern American campus is anything but an ivory tower. It is the crossroads of civilization: just as young people from all points once converged on the great cities to learn and shape their destinies, today they go to college,” Cone says.
“It is no coincidence that the regions flourishing with entrepreneurial activity today tend to grow up around universities: that is where the high-impact entrepreneurs of tomorrow are,” Cone says. “The campus is where all fields can intersect and cross-pollinate – mathematics and medicine, philosophy and public policy, engineering and the arts – and where all sectors of the real-world economy are represented.”
Entrepreneurship as Academic Discipline
Recognizing the economic importance of startup companies and the shift from traditional manufacturing industries to knowledge-based economic activity, many universities have begun addressing the need for entrepreneurship education. Two years ago, Susquehanna University unveiled a major emphasis in entrepreneurship coordinated by Leann Mischel, assistant professor of management and director of the Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurship (LIFE). Management majors now have the choice of focusing their academic pursuit in the field of entrepreneurship.
In fact, students across disciplines at Susquehanna are encouraged to take entrepreneurship courses and declare an emphasis in entrepreneurship. But even those who do not take the school up on this offer may find in their campus activities a host of teachable moments that lend themselves to entrepreneurial skill-building.
“The entrepreneurship emphasis starts by focusing on how to run a small business,” Mischel explains. “Students then take a course where they have to write a business plan for a business they would actually like to start someday. The emphasis culminates with the Entrepreneurial Experience class where students actually have to run a business or part of a business during the semester. By doing so, they learn hands-on what it takes to run a company.”
Mischel says the emphasis has grown exponentially since its inception. “There were only a handful of students the first year. It more than doubled this year, and now, of those prospective business majors who may start in the fall, 10 percent would like to come in with an entrepreneurship emphasis,” she says.
Despite successes like this, entrepreneurship education is still an emerging field of study nationally. The ultimate goal of the Kauffman Foundation's collegiate entrepreneurship program is for universities to engage in a campus-wide, cross-disciplinary approach to entrepreneurship.
“We have barely scratched the surface in learning to teach entrepreneurship in fields other than business and engineering,” says Cone. “Just as most schools of fine arts now teach arts management, we want students to learn how best to start a new theater company or arts center. Education majors ought to be able to learn how best to start a new magnet or charter school – and so on through the humanities, the social sciences and the various professional schools.”
There is even room for entrepreneurship in the education of tomorrow's scientists, according to a 2006 study by researchers at Indiana University. The study, “The Knowledge Filter and Economic Growth: The Role of Scientist Entrepreneurship,” revealed that, in addition to commercializing their research through licensing, some scientists are starting new businesses from the fruits of their laboratory pursuits.
Vanessa Orosz '94 Sobotta, vice president of recoupIT, the IT equipment brokerage firm she founded with her husband, Peter, in Mechanicsburg, Pa., says the various employment experiences she had in the work study program helped form her entrepreneurial mindset. “By recognizing that no job is beneath me, opportunities presented themselves in ways they might not have, had I ruled them out on principle. That is the crux of my entrepreneurial spirit, and I think all students should try and embrace a similar philosophy,” she says.
Charles “Rusty” Flack '76, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Diamond Consolidated Industries Inc., headquartered in Wyoming, Pa., says community service endeavors can also help develop entrepreneurial skills. “Working in community service will hone your people skills, improve your ability to move in diverse groups toward common goals and, ultimately, make you a better manager,” he says.
Breeding Tomorrow's Entrepreneurs
One student who did decide to study entrepreneurship is Britany Hufnagle '08, of Selinsgrove, Pa. Hufnagle embraced the entrepreneurial spirit at an early age. She began showing dogs when she was only seven years old. It didn't take long for other dog owners to see the benefit of having a charming little girl handling their dogs in the show ring. Before long, Hufnagle branched out into dog grooming, and today, her list of services includes grooming, boarding, show handling, training and pet sitting.
What started as a fun hobby in her parents' garage now has Hufnagle running a bona fide business with clients from coast to coast. She has studied under the famous “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan, been certified to evaluate litters for show dog qualities, and become a breeder of her own line of champion Golden Retrievers.
Considering her success, one might ask what Hufnagle is even doing in college. After all, if anyone fits the mold of a self-made entrepreneur, it's her. Hufnagle says the benefit of studying at a liberal arts college like Susquehanna, dedicated to teaching undergraduates, is twofold.
Besides being close to home so she can continue running her business, Hufnagle said the school's flexibility allowed her to customize her education to reflect her interests and career goals. “Not only was I able to work with professors to create a self-designed major, biopsychology, I was able to add an emphasis in entrepreneurship. These options are not available at many other schools,” she said.
Beyond academic flexibility, an undergraduate liberal arts college is uniquely positioned to offer students close networking opportunities with alumni and current parents. For Drew Yerger '07, of Dillsburg, Pa., the opportunity to meet parent Jeffrey Marrongelle P'07 during Homecoming Reunion Weekend last fall changed his life. The chance meeting, during what Yerger thought would be a quick cocktail downtown to celebrate his friend's birthday, resulted in an on-the-spot job offer.
The two were introduced to one another by Marrongelle's son, Nick '07, a friend and classmate of Yerger. The icebreaker question “What do you do?” sparked a conversation about Marrongelle's vision for a new alternative medicine company, and a discussion about Yerger's education in management and his internship creating a business plan for a resort in Trinidad and Tobago.
The entrepreneurial wheels began to turn, and a plan was hatched to create a franchise with Yerger serving as vice president of marketing and sales. Now, less than a year later, BioEnergyMed has established franchises at a West Palm Beach, Fla., resort and a Maryland hospital, and the company continues to grow.
Four years ago, when he enrolled at Susquehanna and began selling homemade beef jerky out of his dorm room for extra cash, Yerger could have never imagined landing a job like this, nonetheless landing it before ever reaching graduation. He says the open-mindedness and communication skills he honed at SU – keys to good networking – enabled him to take the seed of opportunity planted by this chance encounter and make it bloom into a rising enterprise.
Tapping the Entrepreneurial Spirit in Us All
Yerger's story is an example of how Susquehanna University trustee Richard E. Caruso '65, of Villanova, Pa., describes entrepreneurship. And he should know. Last fall, Caruso was named the overall national winner of Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year award. As Mischel explains, “It's the Nobel Prize of the business world.” (See related story on the back cover.)
Caruso says, “Entrepreneurs really create their own opportunities by being aware of what's going on around them.”
Can such a skill be taught? Leaders at The Kauffman Foundation believe so. In fact, the foundation's collegiate entrepreneurship program is built on the premise that all students, regardless of their academic focus, should be exposed to at least some entrepreneurial education.
“Entrepreneurship is one of the most important aspects of our economy, and students understand that,” Cone says.
“Students know they have to build a wide range of interdisciplinary skills that give them maximum flexibility and preparation for the future. Entrepreneurship is one such skill. Whether considering starting an enterprise or just wanting to be an outstanding employee, students want to learn how to recognize opportunity, harness the resources to exploit that opportunity, exercise their creativity, create sustainable solutions, take the inherent risks, and participate in the rewards,” she says.
A liberal arts education helps students embrace this entrepreneurial spirit, contends Larry Hutchison '80, president of DoubleStar Inc., in West Chester, Pa. The founder of the enterprise performance management and recruitment consulting firm is Kevin Drury '78, who lured Hutchison to DoubleStar in 2000.
“For me, exposure is the great thing about a liberal arts school like SU,” Hutchison says, “exposure to a broad educational curriculum, exposure to people from diverse cultures and regions, exposure to Selinsgrove and the inherent cultural differences from where you came from, exposure to new foods, new music, new habits and new freedoms. And this exposure, on a broader scale, is what entrepreneurialism is all about.”
Jason Wolfe '99, an enterprise development advisor who has worked around the world on assignments with the U.S. Agency for International Development, summed it up this way: “Entrepreneur-ship is one example of applied creativity, and that's one of the core things you get from a liberal arts education. You learn to think outside the box and that can apply to any career you work in.”