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All Together Now

Interdisciplinary programs let you realize your entrepreneurial dreams, whatever your major may be.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the September 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Business students aren't the only ones learning about entrepreneurship these days. More colleges are encouraging students of every major--from science and technology to humanities and the arts--to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Programs like the one at the University of Iowa's John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center give non-business majors a chance to sharpen their entrepreneurial skills. The learning institution grants a certificate of entrepreneurship to students of any major who complete the 18-hour program.

"At last count, we had about 48 different majors from across our campus in the entrepreneurship program," says David Hensley, the center's executive director. "In our classes, we'll have a biomedical engineering student next to a finance major next to a dance major, which makes it a pretty unique educational experience for all students." By bringing different disciplines together, the program helps foster new business ideas and enables non-business majors to learn valuable entrepreneurial skills.

Michael Smith, Brian O'Leary and Steven Davis gleaned a ton of business know-how from the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. As engineering students, they created Bio::Neos software for biotech and pharmaceutical researchers, but they didn't have the skills they needed for raising capital, marketing, selling and developing product lines. They found guidance in those areas from the professors at the center. "The [professors] were great," says Smith of the on-campus experts who served as mentors for the 2004 startup. "We were engineers and very removed from the business world." Smith, 26, O'Leary, 26, and Davis, 27, also secured space in the center's business incubator and won numerous business plan competitions using their newfound business acumen. Bio::Neos projects 2007 sales to hit between $150,000 and $200,000.

Students at the City College of New York also get to bring their interdisciplinary expertise to business ventures. The Environmental Engineering and Entrepreneurship Program, started in 2003, harnesses the talents of students such as Cory Ip, 24, a junior earth systems science and environmental engineering major. The program's venture, Greenproofing, started as an environmental consultancy but is now focused on building green roofs--plant and soil roof covers designed to reduce energy consumption and keep buildings cool. Every two years, a group of students takes the reins from the earlier group to continue the venture. The program is now in its second cycle, and when the current students finish their research on green roofing, the third cycle will implement the business model, making the company sustainable. "There are lots of ways these disciplines can be brought together to create new organizations," says Kevin Foster, EEEP advisor and assistant professor of economics at CCNY.

Whether it's developing science-related businesses or artistic ventures, interdisciplinary entrepreneurship is about creating ideas and bringing them into the marketplace. "You're not just trying to design the greatest product in the world, you're trying to develop something that has commercial value," says Hensley. "It provides students with a lot of different learning opportunities that will prepare them to be successful."

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