In addition to business planning and contacts, entrepreneurs need skills that many general management students don't, including risk management and knowledge of how to raise capital. "These are key managerial skill sets that aren't always honed in the traditional curriculum," says Michael Camp, academic director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at The Ohio State University in Columbus. Entrepreneurship students are also taught different approaches to concepts such as opportunity recognition, where they learn to seek profit rather than protect resources.
Perhaps most specific to entrepreneurs is the ability to persist when setbacks occur. "We try to instill the idea that failure is a process," says Clay Hamner, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "You try to reduce your risk of failure to the lowest point you can, but you continue."
Entrepreneurship programs increasingly offer students access to capital as well as stoicism. Hamner brings in angel and institutional VCs, private equity buyout firms and other financial industry people to talk to students and, sometimes, initiate contacts that result in funding. Hamner adds that the university itself sometimes invests in companies begun by alumni.
Most entrepreneurship programs also stress experiential learning, urging students to take internships in operating companies. Some focus on placing students in fast-growth ventures; others stress international opportunities where students can live and work overseas. Some will pay part of the student's salary to encourage employers--many also alums--to take a student trainee.
The students themselves often engage in what amount to post-graduate internships, working for a few years in companies founded by other entrepreneurs while learning, building wealth and accumulating contacts. After earning his MBA from the University of North Carolina in 1995, Ed Hubbard worked for Dell and Intel Corp. for five years before starting United Devices Inc. in 2002. The Austin, Texas, company, which developed a technology that allows thousands of computers to pool unused power to crack complex problems, has 50 employees and over $30 million in funding. "I think [the education] does help," says Hubbard, 38, who always planned to start his own company.
So is entrepreneurship education the way to go? Betz of Orca Gear thinks so. "If it wasn't for this," he says, "I'd be going on The Apprentice."
Program at a Glance
Curious about what you'll actually get in a top entrepreneurship education program? The University of Houston's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, opened in 1991, offers a glimpse.
Since 1995, Houston has offered a bachelor's of business administration in entrepreneurship. Its six-course general entrepreneurship program is unlike most in that it was designed from scratch to educate entrepreneurs as opposed to simply repackaging existing marketing, finance and management classes to create a curriculum. Both Ph.D. academics and startup veterans are among its five faculty.
Each of the 33 students in each class must come up with an idea for a business. That idea is further developed during the two-year program through creating business and marketing plans, and performing other analyses. "When you graduate, you walk out the door and start this business," says Daniel E. Steppe, director of the comprehensive program at the University of Houston.
The program emphasizes practical knowledge, featuring frequent guest lecturers and intensive mentoring. And an innovative intrapreneurship certificate program offered to students who complete a two-course curriculum was quickly oversubscribed by students from across the campus when it was rolled out last year.
Mark Henricks is Entrepreneur's "Staff Smarts" columnist.