Wednesday, April 6, 2011
New entrepreneurship minor develops skills to find, launch successful ventures
Long before they start drafting a business plan, budding entrepreneurs at Oakland University soon will be researching, testing and fine-tuning the ideas that one day could result in new businesses.
That systematic approach will be key to Oakland’s new entrepreneurship minor, approved in March and scheduled to launch its first classes this fall.
Oakland’s School of Business Administration is introducing the interdisciplinary program -- open to all OU undergraduates -- to support new growth and employment opportunities in and for Michigan.
“We really emphasize the development and refinement of ideas through the courses,” says Associate Professor of Marketing Mark Simon, who developed the minor in partnership with Professor of Marketing Ravi Parameswaran, chair, Department of Management and Marketing.
“New ventures can have a radical impact on the economy,” adds Simon, who has launched a number of ventures himself and has researched entrepreneurship extensively.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of the Census estimates that small enterprises – businesses with fewer than 500 employees – in Michigan represent 98.3 percent of the state’s employers.
Small businesses and entrepreneurs make a similar impact nationally, says Lorne Greenwood, a representative of SCORE Detroit, a nonprofit organization that provides small business mentoring and training. They are leading the way in job creation across the U.S.
“Small firms accounted for 65 percent (or 9.8 million) of the 15 million net new jobs created between 1993 and 2009,” says Greenwood, citing the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Beyond the traditional
The SBA has offered an entrepreneurship minor in the past for non-business students. This minor, however, is an all-new program that moves beyond the traditional curriculum to support the success of entrepreneurs today and tomorrow.
"An interesting aspect of (OU's) entrepreneurship curriculum is that it has leapfrogged more traditional entrepreneurship curriculum structures and fully embraced the emerging focus on business modeling," according to a recent article in The Entrepreneurship Educator.
In more traditional programs, students begin with a feasibility or business plan.
"The traditional process, while important, results in students trying to defend or explain why their current idea will work too early," explains Simon, "The SBA's program strongly encourages students to build business models that match their goals, likes, skills and resources by following a detailed process to, first, find multiple ideas, refine them, and test the assumptions before selecting their final idea.
"Satisfaction plays a key role in spurring the persistence, enthusiasm and energy needed for success," Simon says.
Encouraging ideas across disciplines
Businesses grow in mass and niche markets. Regardless of their primary interest, entrepreneurs all need to know how to cultivate, execute and fund business ideas successfully.
“You can be an education student who wants to start a tutoring business. Engineering students have other ideas. Our approach means students in the program will gain the skills needed to start successful ventures of all kind: commercial, social, scientific, artistic, and so on," Simon notes.
By offering the minor to business and non-business students, the SBA recognizes the importance and widespread interest of entrepreneurship across disciplines. This cross-disciplinary approach enhances classroom discussions and increases the knowledge base students will gain in the program.
"Research shows that entrepreneurs prosper when they develop ideas in groups. The entrepreneurship minor at the SBA definitely facilitates building teams with complementary skills to engage students and enhance learning," Simon says.
The non-business students take two additional prep courses so they can join the business students in four entrepreneurship courses.
Show me the money
All students in the new program will take courses in developing venture ideas and in entrepreneurial marketing, which will help them prepare a low-cost marketing campaign designed to generate high returns and cash flow.
Obtaining capital for ventures is a critical piece in many new businesses.
Select students who have developed outstanding business plans also may have the chance to launch their venture under instructor supervision through the Entrepreneurship Project Practicum, which includes the possibility of obtaining venture funding from the SBA's Ideas 2 Business program.
The holistic approach
The SBA has taken pains to avoid a cookie-cutter approach to preparing students for entrepreneurship, Simon says.
“We’re trying to look at the whole person. Are you willing to take risks? Do you want more time with your family, or do you plan to spend as much time as it takes to make your business a success? Early on, we will try to tailor the program to the type of entrepreneur the person wants to be,” he says.
Starting a business does require a serious time commitment, Simon says, but with careful planning, it can also provide opportunities for those who place high value on time away from work. Whatever the entrepreneur’s goals and interests are, they should play a part in shaping his or her new business.
“One could argue that’s one of the most important parts,” says Simon, who also is the author of The Balanced Entrepreneur: Finding and Perfecting Ideas to Generate Financing, Freedom, Fun and Fortune.
Simon gained a new perspective on entrepreneurship after he and his wife came through serious battles with their health in the last five years. “It made me realize life is short,” he says “Entrepreneurs can have multiple goals. It’s not just about making money. They can achieve goals like freedom and independence.”
Leading the way
It's possible the SBA's approach will become the dominant way of preparing students for entrepreneurship -- encouraging students to test their ideas and seek input instead of focusing solely on developing a business plan.
By Flori Meeks