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Launch Pad to Success

Thousands of colleges are getting down to business, turning today's students into tomorrow's business leaders. This list of best schools for entrepreneurs shows which ones make the grade.

College is a time for exploration, and if you're interested in starting a business, it might be the ideal time to explore all that the top entrepreneurial programs in the country have to offer. To assist in your search for the best college for you, Entrepreneur has partnered with The Princeton Review--for the third consecutive year--to bring you our sixth annual listing of the top 50 entrepreneurship education programs in the country. Whether you're looking for the best 25 undergraduate programs or the top 25 graduate programs, we reached out to more than 2,300 different schools to help you navigate the exciting world of college entrepreneurship.

If you're like other students of your generation, you're gathering information before you set foot on any campus. "I'm getting contacted by more and more incoming students than before," says Raman Chadha, executive director of the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center at Chicago's DePaul University, the No. 2 ranked graduate program and the No. 7 ranked undergraduate program on our list. "Students will contact us before enrolling, saying, 'I want to learn how I can take advantage of the [entrepreneurship program].' "

Taking advantage of all that Babson College had to offer were Thomas Chevalier and Carlos Larracilla, co-founders of PeopleAhead, an online matching service that uses TrueMatch technology to connect employers with professional job candidates. These 2007 MBA graduates were accepted into the Entrepreneurship Intensity Track during their second-year studies and then paired with a mentor to help them launch the business. Larracilla and Chevalier were even able to grow their company in Babson's Hatchery Program, using incubator space on campus for more than a year to launch the business--up to three months after they graduated. "As an MBA student, there's a lot of coursework . . . what you really learn to do is prioritize in order to get the business going," says Chevalier, 28.

Perhaps one of the brightest aspects of the No. 1 ranked graduate program and the No. 2 ranked undergraduate program at The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at Babson is the array of faculty, staff, students and alumni who share that entrepreneurial spirit. "That's very [interesting] about the culture [at Babson]," says Larracilla, 33. "Everybody tries to give you advice and to be cheerleaders for your business." Waltham, Massachusetts-based People-Ahead launched to the public in June and expects sales in the six figures this year.

The coming year is full of changes at Babson, according to Allan R. Cohen, dean of the graduate program at Babson, located in Babson Park, Massachusetts. There will be at least four new entrepreneurship courses this year, including social networks in the virtual world and environmental entrepreneurship. All of the courses are designed to immerse students in the nuts and bolts of business. "Entrepreneurial education is not a spectator sport," says Cohen. "We tell students: This is not going to be taking notes or just participating in class discussions. We expect you to have to do something."

Another successful graduate of Babson's MBA program is Dwight Schultheis, 33, founder of Get Amenity, a men's grooming products company in New York City. This 2004 graduate was a member of the Entrepreneurship Intensity program and credits his MBA training with helping him create and refine his business plan and marketing strategy. "The attention that Babson gave to the curriculum to really give us all sides of the entrepreneurial puzzle--I found that invaluable," says Schultheis, who launched his company upon graduation and projects $4 million in sales for 2008.

The diversity and presence of international students at Babson in particular even helped Schultheis with his market research. Before he launched his products in retailers both in the United States and internationally, he bent the ears of fellow students who hailed from other countries and got their take on men's skin-care products.

The idea of using entrepreneurship to reach out both internationally and locally prevails among these programs. Babson sends student groups to teach entrepreneurship in developing countries, for instance. An emphasis on green entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship continues to grow as well. Says Chadha, "We're going to start seeing universities trying to attack the world's problems through entrepreneurship."

The Complete Picture
The top entrepreneurial education programs are teaching students to evaluate a business idea from top to bottom to get a true understanding of the market. Jessyca Blood's studies at the No. 1 ranked undergraduate program at the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston helped her launch Jess & Co. in 2007 while still an undergraduate. Blood, 27, a fashion lover, initially planned to create her own clothing line--until her sister asked her to sew some cute outfits for her dog. The designs were such a hit that Blood realized what business she wanted to start. "It was an opportunity," she says. "I saw that there was such good feedback that I made a total switch from fashion apparel to pet clothes"--a decision she made with help from the program.

Making Sense of the List
There's no shortage of excellence on the list of the top 50 graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurial education programs, according to The Princeton Review's vice president of publishing, Robert Franek. In analyzing the survey, he saw a few trends emerging in the entrepreneurial education space: More schools are offering courses in social and environmental entrepreneurship--responding to needs that were not as apparent five or 10 years ago, as well as student demand.

Experiential learning, where students learn entrepreneurship by working on their own businesses or working with other real-life businesses instead of only working case studies, continues to be a big part of entrepreneurial education today, and, many times, students are even more involved with the nearby community of business leaders, says Franek.

While there are overall trends emerging, each program offers something unique for students. Franek advises using this list as just one part of your decision-making process. "A ranking list should never be used as a singular source of information," he says. "What a ranking should do is highlight schools that are exceptional for specific reasons . . . they're engaging students in specific ways. You have to find out as a student: Does that way match with what you feel is going to engage you as a student inside and out?"

"[The Wolff Center] helped tremendously," says Blood. "They showed [students] everything we needed to do step by step. They had total outlines for business plans and classes just on business planning. Any questions we had, [the professors] were always there to meet with us one on one, after class, whenever we needed it."

Since graduating in May, Blood has been growing her business full time and hopes to reach $100,000 in sales this year, selling her products online at jessandco.com and through small specialty boutiques in Houston, near her Seabrook, Texas, locale.

There's a large focus on feasibility planning at the University of Houston, says Dan Steppe, director of the Wolff Center. Students are given tools to evaluate an idea relatively quickly to determine whether or not it's workable. "We need to get the unfeasible projects out of the way so you can concentrate on the feasible ones," says Steppe.

Feasibility means evaluating the potential of a business idea and how well it fits into a student's desired life plan. The center uses three specially designed computer software programs to help students work through feasibility planning, financial models and personal success models. The goal is to determine what kind of life you want your business to bring you, which then helps you determine what type of business is best for you.

The Wolff Center offers myriad programs including a mentoring program, a three-day student retreat and a mock term sheet negotiation, where students are coached by business executives and attorneys in the fine points of negotiating a mock merger or financing deal.

Finding his own success under the Wolff Center's guidance is Robert De Los Santos, 24. He founded Sky High Party Rentals, an inflatable moon bounce rental company in Humble, Texas, as a local enterprise in 2006. When De Los Santos began his studies at the University of Houston in Fall 2006, he decided it wasn't enough to be small and local. He wanted to be the go-to shop for every moon bounce renter in Houston. "When I got to [the Wolff Center], they put me in a different mind set," De Los Santos says.

As a current student, De Los Santos is able to attend Entrepreneur's Organization meetings in Houston and hear big-time CEOs share their success secrets. "I get out of [those meetings] all pumped," says De Los Santos, who is set to graduate in 2009. He networks with CEOs at the events and gets lots of valuable advice about growing and even possibly franchising his business in the future.

De Los Santos' interest in the Wolff Center increased when he found out how competitive the admission process was--he wanted to be surrounded by high-energy entrepreneurial students like himself. He also used the network of motivated students at the university and hired 10 people from the entrepreneurship club on campus (of which De Los Santos is president) to really build the brand and get a strong web presence and search engine optimization in his local area. Those strategies have helped him grow his business to a projected $500,000 to $700,000 in sales for 2008.

Looking at all of these programs around the country, one thing is clear: Students have entrepreneurship on the brain. Some are even coming out of high school with a business already started and looking to build that enterprise throughout college, notes Chadha.

While there's no better time to be an entrepreneur, it's also a great time to be an entrepreneurship student, as so many programs today offer the chance not only to learn real-life business planning, but also to network with top entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Get additional resources and details on the top 50 colleges at entrepreneur.com/topcolleges.

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the October 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Launch Pad to Success.

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