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May 3, 2007

Katz anticipates entrepreneurial age

“You will face entrepreneurial ventures and entrepreneurship everywhere you turn for the next 50 years,” the chair of Syracuse University’s entrepreneurship program told a Pitt audience this week, adding that the at-risk student will be the one who graduates unprepared for the entrepreneurial age.

Entrepreneurship is among the areas Katz Graduate School of Business Dean John T. Delaney wants to emphasize both in the graduate program as well as in Pitt’s College of Business Administration.

Delaney cautioned that Pittsburgh can’t count on the big firms that nurtured the region in the past to continue in that role in the future. “The next 50 to 100 years in this region are going to be driven by the new firms that we create,” he said, adding that students who are not exposed to hands-on entrepreneurship are going to be totally unprepared.

“If we don’t prepare students to go out and do, they’re not going to know what to do and we’re going to suffer,” Delaney said, echoing the words of Michael Morris, chair of Syracuse’s Department of Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises.

“This really is about driving the future,” Delaney said.

While Pitt has some survey classes that cover many aspects of entrepreneurship, “We need to do more,” Delaney contends.

Delaney said Pitt already is well positioned in terms of outreach, thanks to the activity of the Katz school’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence (IEE). “It has done a tremendous job of helping local businesses. What we haven’t had is the academic side of the content: courses for our students. We have a few general entrepreneurship courses, but that’s all we have,” he said. With a stronger academic program coupled with IEE’s efforts, “We could be one of the top programs in entrepreneurship,” the dean said.

Noting that Katz needs to fill a recently funded chair in entrepreneurship, Delaney said the time is right to address Pitt’s approach. “I see that person as a liaison between the faculty and the practice. … We need to find a way to build that bridge.”

The April 30 symposium brought Morris to campus to talk about how Pitt might adapt what Syracuse has done. Citing other worthy programs at Indiana, the University of Virginia, Georgia Tech and Arizona, Katz assistant dean and IEE executive director Ann M. Dugan said she plans to schedule a second session showcasing another university this summer. But Pitt will tailor its own program. “There’s not a cookie cutter out there,” she said.

As an emerging field of study, no standard model for teaching entrepreneurship exists, said Morris. That yields an entrepreneurial opportunity: “As the field starts to solidify, there’s room for Pittsburgh to be a leader and provide direction to the rest,” the self-described academic entrepreneur told the audience of about 50 people at the IEE-sponsored symposium.

Morris explained how Syracuse’s nationally recognized program has reached out across campus and into the community while developing students’ entrepreneurship skills. The program centers on two core principles, Morris said: Every student an entrepreneur and total student immersion in entrepreneurship.

Morris noted that entrepreneurship is not all about small business, nor are its concepts all about money-making. For instance, social entrepreneurship can impact churches or communities, he said.

Syracuse’s program is rich in experiential learning and has yielded a variety of initiatives ranging from a student-run microcredit fund to an entrepreneurial boot camp for disabled veterans returning from Iraq, from a women’s business center to a program designed to create 100 sustainable ventures in the most economically disadvantaged parts of Syracuse within five years. (It’s logged 80 in just three years, he noted.)

In addition to engaging in the community, there’s cross-campus entrepreneurship — the idea that entrepreneurial concepts can be integrated into other classes such as history or physics.

“We’re teaching this not as a discrete event, but as a philosophy of life,” he said, adding that it’s a way of thinking and of acting.

Morris noted that many students exposed to the entrepreneurship curriculum depart with a new attitude: believing in their innate entrepreneurial potential and excited to find ways to capitalize on it.

The Syracuse curriculum has been developed with two areas in mind: contexts for entrepreneurship (such as startups, franchising, taking over a family business, becoming an entrepreneur within one’s discipline/profession or even public sector entrepreneurship) and facilitators for entrepreneurship (such as opportunity assessment, networking, risk taking and venture financing).

Morris emphasized that teaching entrepreneurship requires an enlightened view of curriculum and goals for students. “Entrepreneurship is where discipline meets creative unreasonable thought,” he said, adding that entrepreneurs can be “a pain in the butt.” Citing Starbucks’ success as an example, he noted that traditional business school faculty probably would not have backed the concept: Consumption of coffee had fallen over the past generation and the industry was a mature one.

Morris acknowledged that the necessary change in attitude can be threatening to faculty. While entrepreneurship involves breaking out of the mold, the practical way to ensure that a program remains viable long-term depends on working through the traditional university infrastructure.

Syracuse uses a mix of adjunct professors from the business community, faculty from other disciplines, non-tenure-track clinical professors and tenure-track faculty. It also has a vice provost for entrepreneurship, a deans board and an operational board, he noted.

“Some of that structure is imperative,” he said, adding that a program also needs to be run like an entrepreneurial venture.

Budgetary issues can’t be ignored. “Funding buys freedom to innovate,” he said, suggesting the establishment of an entrepreneurship endowment fund as one way of cementing a program’s financial viability.

Katz’s Delaney said he sees many aspects of the Syracuse program that could integrate well into Pitt’s business curriculum, generate resources and give students strong hands-on experience.

“We have a huge resource in our students. If we have them out in the community, not only will they learn skills that are going to help them in their job, but they’re going to help the community at the same time,” Delaney said, emphasizing that the issue is not entirely about profit, but also about social entrepreneurship and giving back to the community.

“This moves learning into action,” the dean said, noting that real-world activities raise students’ enthusiasm and pride. “They really are making a difference in the community, helping people create economic opportunity for their families.” Noting also that members of the University community have ideas but may lack entrepreneurial skills, Delaney said, “There’s real opportunity. Most of all, students will really benefit.”

Dugan said there is interest throughout the University in entrepreneurship, both among students and in various academic areas. The entrepreneurship floor in the Living and Learning dormitory is the sole area already filled to capacity for the coming year, and it was full last year, she said. In addition, both engineering and Arts and Sciences have indicated interest in exploring ways to strengthen entrepreneurship.

“It’s something a lot of people want to do,” Dugan said. But new curricula need to be developed. “The classes that exist are mainly about creating a business plan. And it’s about so much more than writing a business plan,” she said, adding that the time is ripe to put the pieces together campus-wide. Dugan said a likely approach will be to add more focused entrepreneurship course content gradually — perhaps within 12-18 months, she said.

Looking ahead, Delaney said there is potential to create a separate interest group within the business school, but the University community first must decide whether entrepreneurship is a legitimate area of study and take up the issue of allocation of resources.

“There are a lot of issues that have to be addressed first to make it work,” Delaney said. “I’m hoping that faculty will be excited about the opportunity. My approach is that we’re going to build interest.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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