Click to Print

Get Yourself an Entrepreneurial Education

Many entrepreneurs choose to start out on their own. But another choice is to obtain a degree in entrepreneurship--and take advantage of the vast array of biz resources universities offer.
December 5, 2005

If you're a business owner with most of your growth ahead of you, one place you may want to go to finance your expansion--as well as to learn how to manage it--is back to school. At least that's the advice of Mark Rice, director of the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York.

Rice, whose staid title belies his contribution to making Rensselaer one of the powerhouse entrepreneurship schools in the country, has seen the same scenario happen over and over again. Young growth companies tap into the activity surrounding a university and find themselves awash in the kinds of resources--capital included--that help turn great ideas into great companies.

"Creating an environment where companies can thrive requires an important underlying fabric," Rice says. This fabric consists of an active angel network, a source of technology or new business ideas, a large number of entrepreneurs, a base of professionals--such as lawyers, bankers, accountants and marketing consultants--who understand entrepreneurial companies and are prepared to assist them, and a state or local government that maintains a pro-business stance.

How to Pick a Study Program

If you need help and feel that a university environment might be right for you, your first task is to find the institution that best fits your needs. Experts like Rice suggest that not every educational institution is capable of delivering the assistance you need. In particular, they say you should focus your energy on working with a university that has an entrepreneurship program. The different mind-sets at different schools are subtle but important. At most universities, for instance, professors prepare students to join a company as an employee after graduation. At schools with entrepreneurship programs, you'll find professors and students preparing to build businesses.

Even schools with fledgling entrepreneurship programs are worth checking out. Bob Tosterud, head of the Council of Entrepreneurship Chairs, a group of business schools with endowed entrepreneurship professorships, says entrepreneurship is a hot topic in universities these days.

"People who are hired by schools to cultivate entrepreneurship chairs are often highly qualified and have lots of contacts in business and academia," says Tosterud. "I recommend calling any university nearby, and if they have even a rudimentary entrepreneurship program, schedule an appointment to talk to the person running it."

Michael Marvin, a former RPI employee who ran the school's manufacturing center and started a business with great help from the school's resources, also advises that if you want to approach a university for funding, keep in mind that they offer many ports of entry. "Go in as many doors as possible," he says, "but don't stay anywhere too long if it doesn't look productive." For instance, a school like RPI, which has an active entrepreneurship program, might have affiliate programs in which off-campus companies can get involved. Other options include: