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The Oldest Entrepreneurship Programs in America

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Entrepreneurship education began in the first half of the 20th century with course offerings like "family business" and “new enterprises.” Since then, it has become one of the fastest growing areas of study in higher education.

The number of structured entrepreneurship programs offered by U.S. colleges and universities quadrupled during the last quarter of the 20th century, and these programs are an integral part of the American startup landscape. Business incubators are increasingly based within universities.

The field of entrepreneurship education has graduated from its startup phase, accelerated by both the dot-com boom of the 1990s and the economic downturn of the late 2000s.  

Here, you’ll find snapshots of the longest running entrepreneurship education programs in the country.

1. University of Michigan (1927)

Michigan offered its first course for aspiring entrepreneurs in 1927. Since then, the university has created the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies within the Ross School of Business in 1999 and the Center for Entrepreneurship within the College of Engineering in 2008. The Center offers dedicated academic programming, student grants, and connections between students and alumni working within the start-up world. The Zell Lurie Institute goes far beyond the university to support statewide initiatives and economic development. Among the offerings students can expect here are a unique case writing program to disseminate research and a summer internship program dedicated to MBA students, as well as competitions, events, and funding and grant programs.

2. Harvard Business School (1947)

Harvard offered its first entrepreneurship course over fifty years ago, with a course in "new enterprises" offered to returning veterans of World War II. Its Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship was endowed in 2003. The Rock Center offers business plan competitions, mentorship opportunities, and personalized career services—all features that can be expected from any top b-school.  It also emphasizes networking with both mentors and peers, providing opportunities not only through the aforementioned programs but also through a wide variety of clubs, conferences, and team building sessions. The goal for students here is to either join a team dedicated to a venture that excites them—or build their own team to pursue their own venture.

3. University of Texas at Austin (1964)

UT Austin identifies 1964 as the start of its entrepreneurship education program, and notes several milestones since then: the IC2 Institute, dedicated to “innovation, creativity and capital” has been in place since 1977; the Austin Technology Incubator was founded in 1989, and the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship was funded in 2001 by the founder of Southwest Airlines. The goal of the center is to facilitate cross-disciplinary synergies, particularly between the business, engineering, and law schools.  It facilitates research and mentorship with UT and in the Austin community at large.

4. Babson College (1967)

Babson’s first entrepreneurship class was offered in 1967, its first center dedicated to entrepreneurial studies established in 1978, and its Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship was completed in 1998 (Blank is a co-founder of Home Depot). The center itself provides 6,000 square feet on campus to house a several entrepreneurial programs. It supports co-curricular programs and research initiatives, and creates a link between students and the start-up industry in the greater Boston area. Babson is also home to a Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, which focuses on advancing gender equality as a business strategy and supports programs, events, and research focusing on the skill sets and experiences of female entrepreneurs.

5. University of Southern California (1971)

USC’s Marshall School of Business is home to the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial studies, where a broad blend of academic experts and practicing entrepreneurs offer programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. It offers an undergraduate minor, an MBA concentration, and two different MS options, as well as a certificate in technology commercialization. The center also sponsors a seminar series, conferences, venture competitions, awards and student run clubs, and is served by a large advisory council comprised of graduates and entrepreneurs at large.