The Professor: George Solomon
The George Washington University
• Associate professor of Management
• Co-director, Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence
• Doctorate in business administration, The George Washington University School of Government and Business Administration with a major in entrepreneurship/small business management and organizational behavior & development
As one of the first graduates with a doctorate in entrepreneurship from an accredited school of business in 1982, George Solomon found himself at a crossroads. His alma mater may have ushered him through a groundbreaking field of work, but it wasn't about to give him full-time professorship to teach the subject.
"They thought entrepreneurship was a fad and they didn't want to hire me," Solomon says. So he joined the Small Business Administration and for more than three decades helped expand the agency's education and outreach program. As director of the SBA's Office of Special Initiatives, Solomon was instrumental in opening more than 100 SBA Business Information Centers to help small businesses learn how to build business plans and grow, all on a limited annual budget of $500,000. He also taught business part time as an adjunct professor at GW, keeping his ties with the academic community and biding his time until it became clear that entrepreneurship education was not a fad.
That happened in 2004, when he left the SBA to teach entrepreneurship and management full time at GW and act as co-director of the school's Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence (CFEE). By that time, dozens of entrepreneurship programs had sprung up at leading universities and GW was four years into its development of the CFEE.
Solomon's goal is to ensure that his students, whether they start new ventures or not, work through business problems with an entrepreneurial mind-set.
"What we try to instill in all the students is you should be able to think and act entrepreneurial in any organizational setting," he says. "It's the idea of being creative and innovative and coming up with a new way of doing business that really is the essence of success."
The Student: Bo Davis
Founder of Prometheus and Wasabi Sushi
When he met Solomon, Bo Davis was an undergraduate philosophy major with a passing interest in business. After he took Solomon's business plan development class, Davis was hooked.
He didn't switch majors, but he did follow up by taking several of Solomon's graduate-level classes. "It helped primarily with the business fundamentals--putting together all of the different parts of a business and really understanding what people would want to see if they were thinking about investing in a plan," he says.
By the time he graduated with a bachelor's in philosophy in 1997, Davis had learned enough to start Prometheus, a developer of higher-education course-management software that he sold to Blackboard in 2002 for $9.6 million. After that early success and a stint with the Peace Corps, Davis enrolled in London Business School to earn a master's in finance.
Davis now owns Wasabi Sushi, a restaurant with three locations in Washington, D.C., and one planned for Boston by the end of 2010. He says Solomon's tutelage was critical in helping him start up and grow his ventures.
"It was very helpful and it provided a lot of nuts and bolts I needed," Davis says. "It helps you in doing the due diligence on yourself and your own ideas to formulate something that makes sense."
The Student: Ayman El Tarabishy
Research professor at George Washington University and executive director of the International Council for Small Business
Solomon's influence not only encouraged his students to start new ventures, it also helped inspire a generation of teachers like Ayman El Tarabishy to keep the dynamics of entrepreneurship education evolving.
El Tarabishy, who earned an MBA in 2007 and a doctorate in 2005 and now Solomon's colleague at GW, is known for the entrepreneurship program he developed for healthcare professionals. He is executive director of the International Council for Small Business, the world's largest and oldest nonprofit focused on small-business research. El Tarabishy also helps run a technology consulting firm called InfoComTech that does technology product development and web development projects for clients such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
"His pedagogy, which I actually use a lot in my courses, is to teach the phenomenon of entrepreneurship from a state of doing," he says of Solomon, "It's about saying, ‘Don't worry whether you have the traits of an entrepreneur.' It's not about the person, it's not about family background. It's more about understanding the process and dynamics involved and performing due diligence."
The Student: Ellice Perez
General manager, Zipcar of Greater Baltimore-Washington
Ellice Perez has never founded her own ventures but she has experienced the highs and lows of running startups.
She took Solomon's class on business plans as part of her GW School of Business MBA program, which she completed in 2005.
"While we had a lot of great discussions in his class, the theory doesn't stick with you as much as all the hard work that went into it," Perez says. "It was very practical and I carry it with me today. I have written multiple business plans since then and certainly learned how to do so in that class."
As managing director at CakeLove, a startup venture by Warren Brown, a former lawyer and GW alum who put his company on the map with his Food Network show Sugar Rush, Perez helped grow the business, which she says kept her as busy as any small-business owner.
In 2007, Zipcar recruited her to head up its Washington, D.C., metro region, where she, along with a team of 10 employees, manages a fleet of 800 cars shared by regional subscribers. In June, Baltimore was launched and falls under her leadership, with 50 cars and four employees. She says the role has her acting very much like an entrepreneur within a greater corporate framework.
"I use the things I learned every day," she says. "I use them while working with my team and making sure we're performing well together and also in trying to ensure that operationally, things are done faster and more efficiently than ever."