Get Schooled

Inspiring Minds

The diverse backgrounds of the students are what make today's entrepreneurship education a truly interdisciplinary adventure. Sure, traditional business students leap into entrepreneurship and take business classes-but so do students in liberal arts, technology and the sciences.

Alex Farkas, who double-majored in art history and entrepreneurship, was still an undergraduate at the University of Arizona when he launched his Phoenix business with fellow students Stephen Tanenbaum and Greg Rosborough. The 23-year-old co-founders of believed young artists were clamoring for a place to show and sell their original artwork, and that consumers would gladly trade in their mass-produced art posters for one-of-a-kind creations. The idea originated as a class project but materialized into a successful online emporium that sells the work of student artists.

The collaboration, in-class discussions and mentorship they experienced within the entrepreneurship program helped Farkas and his partners clearly articulate their business plan-which won them more than $22,000 in startup capital at a couple of business plan competitions. Still in the startup stage (the website officially launched in September), aims to reach $250,000 in sales in its first fiscal year.

Conducting focus groups and giving questionnaires to people in their target market were just some of the assignments Farkas, Tanenbaum and Rosborough had to complete for their classes. "The practical aspect of the entrepreneurship department is that [it] gives you the basic framework [for a business plan]," says Farkas. "But the beautiful part is they really make you go out and figure it out."

Arizona isn't the only school that has inspired cross-disciplinary businesses. Temple University, ranked fourth in the undergraduate and seventh in the graduate listings, boasts its share as well. "Though we are the business school, I truly believe the ideas are in the arts, in the sciences, in health care, in many other [areas]," says M. Moshe Porat, dean of the Fox School of Business and Management, which is home to the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute at Temple in Philadelphia.

Two recent graduates of the program, in fact, started businesses hailing from other disciplines. Phyllis Ludwig, 44, a 2005 MBA graduate, enlisted the help of Temple's College of Education to start Financial Literacy Programs of America LLC, which sells her product, Cent$ableKids, an educational kit that teaches financial literacy to youngsters. And Rebecca Davis, 24, a 2004 Temple graduate, founded The Rebecca Davis Dance Company, a nonprofit organization that teaches dance to youngsters and performs professional dance theater works in the Philadelphia area.

Community involvement might be one of the most valuable lessons taught in entrepreneurship programs today. "Universities not only have to ensure they provide a quality education to the students, but at times they provide service or knowledge to the community [as well]," says Solomon. Syracuse boasts a variety of local and international outreach programs, from MBA students working as consultants for 100 sustainable businesses in local inner-city neighborhoods, to the team of 16 graduate and undergraduate students who spent six weeks last summer working with entrepreneurs in the townships around Cape Town, South Africa. And at the University of Dayton's Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership in Dayton, Ohio, all students start businesses during their sophomore year. The center provides $3,000 in startup capital, and when the semester ends, profits are donated to charity.

Clearly, college campuses nationwide are buzzing with entrepreneurial activity. "At both the graduate and undergraduate levels, [entrepreneurship education] unleashes energy that was laying dormant within people," says Solomon. "That's the case with all my colleagues I talk to around the country. They talk about the transformation of some of their students, who come in very shy or disinterested and malcontent, and they leave enthused, energized and focused." And, of course, ready to change the world.

With so many superb entrepreneurship education programs to choose from, we asked Robert Franek, publisher of Princeton Review books, for his best tips on how to select the right one for you.

What should prospective students look for in an entrepreneurship education program?
It's dependent on a lot of things. Many students want to know that there are very clear and practical outcomes-not only for what they're doing in the classroom, but [also] that their degree will work for them with those same practical-based outcomes once they graduate.

You're talking about experiential learning. What other factors can help a prospective student narrow the search?
In our business school [ranking] books, we rank some programs that are especially good for minority students, women or students with families. Start thinking about who [you are] as a student, and where it is that other students [like you] have gone and been quite happy. Those are things [you should] certainly consider. Find out why that school is great for that. Put admissions folks and program-specific folks to task when you're a prospective student and say, "Do you have this? If you don't, why not? Can you get it?"

Other than those suggestions, is there one critical element any good entrepreneurship program should offer?
A dynamic faculty focused on entrepreneurship who have also been successful [entrepreneurs] themselves. And accessibility to those faculty members, [because] I think many faculty members become real mentors for students.

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This article was originally published in the October 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get Schooled.

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