The Entrepreneurial Puzzle: Connecting the Dots Externally and Internally
Submitted by Braden Croy - Syracuse University
The entrepreneurial mindset is the critical thinking skill needed for the 21st century. Students will either be intrepreneurs or entrepreneurs in the future. Through incubation, degrees or certificates, and classroom or club presentations, colleges can help foster the entrepreneurial spirit on campus. An important aspect of making this transition will be using entrepreneurship as a recruiting tool—getting in front of faculty and students at community focused activities.
K-12 outreach for entrepreneurial training is a great way to recruit, as well as foster an innovation ecosystem. Young Entrepreneurial Scholars (YES!) camp is a great collegiate activities which Asheville has had great success with.
ESTEAM—entrepreneurship, science, technology, engineering, art, and math—replacing the STEM focus. Cross cultural and departmental activities are critical to building useful skillsets for students who are interested in starting their own companies. Students need design, technical, and sales training.
The crazy quilt principle is imperative to building entrepreneurship ecosystems. One great way to do this is to partner with your college’s diversity and global education committees. Also connect with the college library to host an entrepreneurship exhibit. Or perhaps, sell student made items in the college bookstore.
Great curriculum to use include IceHouse Entrepreneurial programs, as well as HP Life (discussed in my previous blog post. These programs focus heavily on project based learning, which any entrepreneurial leader, will understand is critical to success for your students. You can’t expect theory to get a student from idea to exit.
Everything thing and every program, person, business is interconnected and as campus leaders, we must make it our mission to help clarify how these connections should be made and the foundations from which they will form. Serving on committees and institutional panels is critical to fostering collaboration and creating more nodes for students, faculty, and mentors to connect to.
Sometimes it’s the simplest things which make an entrepreneurial ecosystem strong. Like CC’ing diverse stakeholders or scanning documents to cross campus tribes. Or, joining staffing meetings with leadership and commitment from the top.
A-B Tech has a 12 month extracurricular business incubator. An impressive timeframe for student incubation and engagement.
Leadership from the top can be just as important as grassroots movements and support. A-B Tech has nicely defined their vision and mission:
Vision: Locally committed; regionally dynamic; world-class focused
Mission: A-B Tech inspires, nurtures and empowers students and the community toward a better quality of life through progressive teaching, bold innovation and supportive collaboration.
Values: Innovation- to actively seek creative solutions and cutting edge initiatives that lead to best practices.
The creation of an innovation task force help to create a common language and purpose for the collegiate community. The task force help define an intellectual property policy which encouraged entrepreneurial activity not hindered it. Entrepreneurial outcomes were also added to the strategic plan.
Leadership of the colleges care about metrics, and if you can place entrepreneurship metrics and outcomes into the strategic plan, you are more likely to get very high level buy-in for your entrepreneurial initiatives. Some metrics include expanding entrepreneurial outreach (college community and external community). These metrics are also important for being able to secure grants for your programs.
From these programs and outreach, you can form an Education and Entrepreneurial Development Foundation. This foundation will work to promote entrepreneurship and act as a strong economic development strategy. The foundation helps to enable entrepreneurial action with the college community and administrative systems. When done properly, programs can turn into additional revenue streams for the institution. An Entrepreneurship Foundation can become a sustainable business model by offering consulting and continuing education programs. The foundation could even be used to establish a venture fund, providing seed and small scale funding opportunities for student entrepreneurs.
A-B Tech has a 200,000+ business incubation park which so generously donated by BASF. A site they now call the BASE houses a Small Business Center, business incubation program, light manufacturing facility, the Education and Entrepreneurial Development Foundation, customized training and workforce development programs, and a brewery training facility.
A-B Tech has used BASE to drive an even large crazy quilt. They’ve included State and Regional partners including Blue Ridge Food Ventures, Bent Creek Institute, NCCCS BioNetworking, and the NC Biotechnology Center.
How cool is it for a college to have a seven barrel brewing system?! Who doesn’t love to learn how to make beer?
One of the major problems many colleges face is the cross campus dissemination of entrepreneurial curriculum. If you can’t find program evangelists on campus in every school, many times course launches will fall flat and be discontinued. It comes down to marketing and partnerships.
How does a college assess whether they should launch an entrepreneurship initiative?
First brainstorm to identify all entrepreneurial service providers, as well as entrepreneurial leaders who have influence.
Second, try to form external partnerships, even if you don’t have all of the pieces figured out yet. These partners will help you find and define the system as you go. Think of it as just-in-time program development. These partners can include; cities and counties, existing incubators, entrepreneurs/small business owners, entrepreneur service providers (lawyers, accountants, etc.), and of course higher education providers.
Third, host a beta program. Keep it small and affordable but make it robust enough to provide real value—get those early wins. The program will grow slowly but you’ll be able to tailor the entirety of your programs to your entrepreneurs. This is true customer discovery. Some events will fall flat, but if you learn from and listen to your entrepreneurs, you’re events will launch without an issue. As the ecosystem grows you can host more and larger events. Consider making these initial events free and open to anyone in the community; using partners and sponsors to keep costs as low as possible.
Fourth, grow you programs and offer them more regularly. By this stage you’ll know more people, have more buy-in, and know exactly what resources your entrepreneurs need. Keep the effectuation principles in mind and make sure you’re always listening to your entrepreneurs.
By starting with a vision and defining the values of your entrepreneurship ecosystem, your future and the future of your entrepreneurs will be bright. Be entrepreneurial, start small and grow along side of your entrepreneurs. You can’t boil the ocean, but you can start with a single cup of water.