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Entrepreneurship on Campus

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

Jonathan OrtmansI hope that like me, you have had the chance to witness the burgeoning phenomenon of entrepreneurship curriculum in American higher education. More and more, students have the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship on campus. In the process of creating entrepreneurship programs, universities have become more entrepreneurial themselves. This is great news. Colleges and universities are natural incubators of creativity and new ways of looking at things. And this new reality might mean that colleges and universities are better preparing students for success in the American economy where more professionals need to make their own jobs.

Who would have thought entrepreneurship would be one of the fastest-growing fields of study on campus? When the Kauffman Foundation launched the Kauffman Campuses initiative in December 2003, many questioned whether entrepreneurship could even be taught (similar to the doubts around teaching management in the past century). At that time eight universities were awarded up to $5 million each to make entrepreneurship education available across their campuses, enabling any student, regardless of field of study, to access entrepreneurial training. These eight institutions were the first generation of campuses offering entrepreneurship programs, followed by a second set of six U.S. universities in 2006. As Carl Schramm remarked at the time, universities have never been the same since.

Today, more than two-thirds of college and universities in the United States now offer at least one course in entrepreneurship. Many colleges and universities that have embraced entrepreneurship started by offering entrepreneurship courses in their business schools, and then moved on to creating entrepreneurship as an academic field itself, allowing students to major or obtain a Masters degree in it. The approaches vary, however. Some universities offer minor degree programs or introductory courses. Others have focused on expanding the role of technology transfer, or on mentoring students in their start-up efforts (e.g. The LaunchPad at the University of Miami). Yet other campuses have created entire centers devoted to the advancement of entrepreneurship. (e.g. the Center of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy at George Mason University).

In most cases, all these initiatives have involved faculty and students from a variety of academic disciplines, not just from the business school. Take Georgetown University, for example, which just recently (April 18, 2011) thanked the many people (student leaders, faculty, business leaders and volunteers) for their entrepreneurship activities at the first annual Georgetown Entrepreneurship Celebration. Campus organizations, such as Compass Incubator, the Energy and Cleantech Club, Georgetown Entrepreneurship Organization (GEO) and the Kairos Society were recognized for their contributions.

MIT also celebrated last week at the “Entrepreneurship @ MIT” reception in its many dimensions. All key players across the full spectrum of its entrepreneurship community (internal and external) participated. At the event, MIT announced the annual Monosson Prize for Entrepreneurship Mentoring to recognize entrepreneurship mentors who have committed their time, expertise, and energy toward developing future generations of MIT entrepreneurs.

The challenge for the field is that it lacks a theoretical canon to inform research behind the development of an effective curriculum. There is work underway to begin to deepen our knowledge base, especially through initiatives like Kauffman Labs which are more focused on teaching people how to start a business rather than about “entrepreneurship” or about the war stories of successful entrepreneurs.

Most of us would agree that much of the United States’ success is due to its entrepreneurship culture, so the enhanced culture of entrepreneurship on campuses is very much welcomed. As William Green, Dean of Undergraduate Education at the University of Miami and member of the Kauffman Panel on Entrepreneurship Curriculum in Higher Education once wrote: “Entrepreneurship is already a routine human behavior. But it’s important for students to learn the difference that entrepreneurship makes—for it to become a more routine subject of study and thought.”

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Jonathan Ortmans is president of the Public Forum Institute, a non-partisan organization dedicated to fostering dialogue on important policy issues. In this capacity, he leads the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship, focused on public policies to promote entrepreneurship in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, he serves as a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation.

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