Can entrepreneurship be taught?
Webster’s Dictionary defines an entrepreneur as “a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.”
While the word has undoubtedly earned buzz-worthy status in recent years in Colorado’s professional landscape, where 98 percent of businesses are considered small, entrepreneurship is clearly more than just a trend.
“Entrepreneurship is experiencing an all-time popularity,” said Karl Dakin, Sullivan Chair in Free Enterprise at Regis University. “I believe that this popularity reflects a long-term trend away from industrial, monolithic business structures to community, social enterprise collaborations.”
As one of the fastest-growing states, Colorado has become a fertile breeding ground for entrepreneurs. Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs are all nationally recognized as hotbeds for startups.
“Everyone from outside of Colorado describes Colorado as a ‘high energy’ place that is better for starting new businesses,” Dakin said.
Sure, Coloradans’ collective self-perception as risk-takers lends itself to the challenges of starting a business. But can the skill sets and personal traits necessary for cultivating companies be taught?
Academia seems to think so.
According to Dakin, a recent report from the Council on Graduate Schools shows that entrepreneurship was the second largest area of growth in courses and degree programs.
As more people infiltrate the state from afar, in-state schools are trying to get a piece of the action, attempting to stay on top of the trend by adding programs to their standard business curriculums, some formalized, some more flexible.
“This increase in entrepreneur education is in direct response to a weak job market,” Dakin said. “If the goal of higher education is to prepare a person for a career, then higher education must incorporate entrepreneur education into its curriculum to address the growing number of students who plan to start and operate their own businesses.”
Here are some of the offerings in Colorado for the next generation entrepreneurs:
University of Colorado Boulder
Deming Center for Entrepreneurship
It seems only natural – given Boulder’s high number of high-tech startups – that the university would capitalize on the excitement. Thus CU’s Leeds School of Business added the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship.
For undergraduates, the school offers a certificate of Entrepreneurial Studies; for grad students, CU offers an MBA program with a concentration in entrepreneurship.
The Deming Center also attempts to connect future entrepreneurs with the current community of business builders. Facilitators help link students to the business community, organizing networking opportunities with student mentors and advisers. Local business leaders offer up real-world expertise in the booming clean-tech, organics and bioscience industries.
Colorado State University
College of Business: Institute for Entrepreneurship
CSU has created the Institute for Entrepreneurship to help foster relationships between students and entrepreneurs within the community. Students are able to work with local startups, learning the ropes through hands-on experience, often as the business owners learn themselves.
Undergraduate students at CSU can also pursue a business degree with an emphasis in entrepreneurship, while graduate students are able to pursue an MBA specialized in Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise.
Under the institute’s umbrella, CSU students also have access to three student-run organizations: the Entrepreneurship Club, which provides a forum for discussion and hosts invited speakers; BizMiss, specifically tailored to women, which organizes fundraisers, among other projects, allowing members to practice marketing, sales, networking, public relations and management skills; and graduate students run the Net Impact group for those interested in learning entrepreneurial skills specific to business ventures that are environmentally or socially conscious.
Metropolitan State University
Create MSU Denver
Metro’s Center for Innovation recently opened its Create MSU Denver: Virtual Incubator and Marketplace Showcasing Creative Entrepreneurs. The program offers advice to creative-minded entrepreneurs to help grow their businesses. Create MSU Denver showcases local artists, helping them increase visibility, while providing an entrepreneurial training ground.
Within Metro’s curriculum, students can also pursue a minor in entrepreneurship. And those interested in gaining startup skills without the degree can complete five courses to attain an Entrepreneurship Certificate.
Metro also has a student-led club called MSU Denver Student Entrepreneurs.
Regis Entrepreneur Club
With support from the John J. Sullivan Chair for Free Enterprise, the Regis Entrepreneur Club is run by students but is open to the public at large. Business owners are encouraged to provide guidance and tutelage. The club hosts meetings and speakers, organizes events, supports competitions and assists students in attaining practical internships and work experience.
Regis also offers a Certificate in Leadership requiring 15 hours of coursework.
University of Denver
Daniels College of Business: Office of Entrepreneurship
The business school at DU currently offers a Graduate Business Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship and created the Office of Entrepreneurship. According to Stephen Miller, Daniels’ senior director of entrepreneurship, the program is still relatively new.
The Office of Entrepreneurship aims to expand offerings for future entrepreneurs by adding “courses, programs, degree customizations, certificates, challenges and competitions, student groups and student-run companies,” according to the program’s website daniels.du.edu.
biz inspiration: Planting Teak Trees in Belize
Recent Regis University graduate Patrick Freeman works full-time as an auditor for Deloitte and Touche LLP. In his spare time, he is beginning a business farming teak trees in Belize. He says it was the Coaching Coffees club at Regis (a weekly meet-up hosted by the Entrepreneur Club) that first sparked his interest in entrepreneurship.
“They would bring someone in from the community who would present on their [business] idea,” Freeman explains. Students and professors would discuss possible ventures and even investigate their potential as viable business models and investments.
Thanks to the club and the sponsorship of the university, Freeman was first able to travel to Belize. Accompanied by Karl Dakin, Sullivan Chair in Free Enterprise at Regis, Freeman traveled to the teak tree farm that another Regis professor, Don Bush, and former Regis graduate student Ben Juarez, were planting. “That trip ultimately led to me working with them.”
Teak is a “fast-growing hardwood,” says Freeman. The material is durable, resilient and weather-resistant, long used in boat building. These days, it is becoming increasingly popular for items from furniture to indoor flooring.
Bush and Juarez had already started planting trees when they presented their business model at a Coaching Coffees meeting. With guidance from Dakin, the head of Coaching Coffees as well as the Entrepreneur Club, Freeman decided he wanted to get involved.
“I had no interest in beginning a business before this program,” Freeman said. “The club definitely sparked my interest in starting a business.”
While Dakin values entrepreneurship education, he stresses the importance of real-world experience.
“Teaching entrepreneurship in a classic classroom setting is like watching a band perform,” Dakin said. “It is a passive observation which does not fairly portray the richness of running your own business. To truly understand entrepreneurship, you need to be onstage, in a band, with an instrument or microphone in your hand.”
As it stands, Bush and Juarez have planted eight acres of trees. “I am just beginning to work with them and am planning on planting my first set of trees next year,” Freeman said.
He adds that while the Coaching Coffees club helped spur his entrepreneurial endeavor, he still has much to learn while forming his own business. “I didn’t realize how much international business would be involved; we have to coordinate getting the trees, fertilizer … wiring money. And then figure out who we’re going to sell the trees or land to,” he says. “I’ve had to learn a lot about working with other countries’ governments.”