The more schools I visit the more I see different approaches to teaching college students how to become entrepreneurs. It’s possible to find schools that will teach future moguls how to prepare a business plan (it can be a thesis!), raise capital and actually launch their venture on campus before they have their degree. Education in entrepreneurship can be found at liberal arts colleges, digital media programs and schools of engineering as well as, of course, business programs.
I did not want to be a business major when I was in college. I found economics and accounting boring. I had heard many bad things about the faculty in the other courses. But I did have some thoughts that I might one day want to work for myself, or be a partner in a consulting firm. I did earn a MBA later in my life. But I did not have it when I worked for a non-profit that was in a start-up mode. Nor did I really need it to be part of a team that started a Web software business that still operates 17 years after it was launched.
A student who wants to start a business will find a way to do it. S/he does not need to go to a prestige business school. But it helps, when s/he runs into supportive faculty who might have connections to potential investors, partners, or employees. I’ve become a fan of Shark Tank, a show that has seen few presenters who have a business education, let alone a MBA. But many have good ideas worth funding. One recent college graduate, Derek Pacque, developed Coat Chex, an automated coat check system than could be placed in bars, clubs and high-end restaurants. Pacque, who received guidance from an Indiana professor, turned down an offer of $200,000 from billionaire entrepreneur (and Indiana alumnus) Mark Cuban to sell 33 percent of his company before he had tested his concept in a single location. He had checked coats the old fashioned way, and made money. But he provided no proof that an automated system would work.
A student who wants to start a business needs to gain some skills. Financial and managerial accounting definitely help. So do communications and writing classes. Being comfortable with numbers also helps. But you do not need to be a quant wizard to become a successful entrepreneur. However, you need to know what the numbers mean in terms of how they tell you how your business is doing.
A student who wants to start a business needs others to share his vision. I don’t know of any successful business person who went it alone. They had to work with suppliers and co-workers. College offers many opportunities for students to learn how to get along with people. That is the ultimate survival skill for life.
A student who wants to start a business needs to give it time. There’s no better way to learn than to do, whether its to use a required thesis to develop the business plan, test it out on campus or the surrounding community or do it as a service project first without the pressure of having to make money. But learning does not come overnight. It takes time, patience and practice.
Finally, a student who wants to start a business does not need to be an ‘A’ student. Those who are most serious about the business work at the business. Academics often takes second place, so grades are likely to suffer. Students who are uncertain, however, about launching a business early and want to gain experience working for someone first would be wise to make academics their priority.