With business schools like the Babson Scool of Executive Education in Wellesley, Massachusetts, teaching undergrads and MBA students how to start business for the past 25 years, it's clear that teaching enrepreneurship is gaining credibility. As one of the first universities to actually formalize the curriculum and one of the few to have a separate department catering entirely to the field, Babson has remained committed to the cultivation of entrepreneurship even in the face of ridicule and speculation of the past.
"Frankly, we bet on this and we were right," says Steve Spinelli, director of Babson's Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship. "We are fairly unique in that, by now most of the campus has embraced the field. There's a clamoring to be a part of it, from the accounting department all the way to the liberal arts people."
So, with head held high, Babson offers support to many of the exceptional nonprofit organizations that, like the aforementioned NFTE, have been spreading information about the power of business ownership to the fertile minds of low-income and at risk kids since 1987.
With programs in 26 states reaching out to about 8,000 children per year, the NFTE has forged partnerships with major supporters and additional university programs to provide less-fortunate youth with a more liberating career path. In spreading the gospel of hands-on entrepreneurship and utilizing trained college students to teach the tools for creating wealth in the marketplace, the NFTE recognizes its contribution to this national movement.
"[The entrepreneurial training market] has experienced the biggest boom in the history of educational efforts," explains Mariotti. "There's been a huge cultural change where the entrepreneur is portrayed much more positively and kids are now allowed to look up to [him or her]."
Along with NFTE, Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) has also flourished with all of the extra attention paid to entrepreneurial activism. Founded in 1975, SIFE has worked in partnership with businesses and higher education to help college students take classroom-taught business skills and apply them to real-world situations. All in the name of free enterprise, SIFE students go from assisting budding entrepreneurs and mentoring at-risk youth to competing in annual International Community Outreach Competitions, in which teams are judged on how well they teach others the principles of free enterprise.
"Our students do a great job of positioning entrepreneurs as the kind of individuals that we think young people ought to aspire to be," says SIFE president and CEO Alvin Rohrs. "And the whole notion that you can teach business concepts has really changed. What used to be considered a vocational skill is now being accepted as an art and a science."
Supporting teams at more than 700 college campuses and universities in 48 states, SIFE accomplishes what California State University, Chico, SIFE advisor Curt DeBerg calls "social entrepreneurship." "By learning, practicing and then teaching the real-world applications of business," he says, "students learn as much-if not more-about free enterprise, while simultaneously being shown that they have an important place in the community."
And for the past seven years, with DeBerg's team completing hundreds of community outreach projects and winning last year's SIFE International Championships, the organization's overwhelming notoriety has even caused Chico's dean to consider implementing innovative entrepreneurship models into the university's formal curriculum. Reading, writing and arithmetic it's not, but in today's changing business climate, it may be just as important.