For Emma Fleck, Entrepreneurship is a Creative Mindset

By Bruce Beans

When Emma Fleck, associate professor of management, adventurously emigrated with her family from their native Northern Ireland to western Colorado five years ago, they initially had no friends or support network.

As a way to fill the weekends, she and her husband, Alex, staged what they called "Superhero Saturdays." With either handmade or purchased costumes, they helped their young sons—Patrick, now 6, and Harrison, now 5—transform themselves into superheroes.

"It was a really special time for me because, thanks to their creativity, I realized that they had no limits in terms of their imagination and what they wanted to be when they grew up," she says. "At that age, no one puts limits on us and tells us something can't be done, that we can't be, for example, a pro football player or a ballerina. It was these moments with my children that inspired me in the classroom."

In her entrepreneurship classes, Fleck helps her Susquehanna students try to reconnect with their creative 5-year-old selves by also having them dress up as superheroes and reconnect with that time in their lives.

Of the three components that make up the entrepreneurial mindset—innovation, problem-solving and creativity—Fleck contends that the first two are fairly well understood, but the concept of creativity is still elusive.

"I want them to stop seeing challenges, limitations or constraints placed on them by society," she says, "and try to get them to sense how they would feel about such things when they were 5—and then channel that into our entrepreneurial activities.

"Entrepreneurship is not just about starting a business," she adds. It's a mindset"—a mindset that, beyond start-ups, she asserts can also pay handsome dividends in business and nonprofit organizations and a wide range of other fields.

Fleck first got interested in entrepreneurship as an international business studies major at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, where her father, Donovan McClelland, was an economics professor. Her doctoral dissertation, at the same institution, investigated the growth and development of Irish firms developed by female entrepreneurs.

Fleck, who worked for a billboard company while earning her Ph.D., initially thought she would go into business. "But I realized I loved learning and have a passion for helping others understand and apply what I've learned to the real world," she says.

After teaching for six years as a tenured professor at her alma mater, she spent three years as an assistant professor at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colo., before arriving at Susquehanna in 2016.

Since then, she:

  • helped launch and directs the Center for Economics, Business, and Entrepreneurship Education, a professional development program for K-12 teachers;
  • helped redesign and launch the entrepreneurship and innovation minor; and
  • directs the Leadership Institute for Entrepreneurship (LIFE), a summer program for high school students.

Fleck has embraced liberal arts education ever since she spent a year as an undergraduate exchange student at Cornell College, a small, highly regarded liberal arts school in Iowa.

"Because of their liberal arts education, Susquehanna students have a more-rounded understanding and can connect the dots more easily by bringing information they've learned from other classes into my classes," she says. 

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