Universities are our Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Everyone is looking for them. We have them already… They function pretty well. My recent paper: The Campus as Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. From the abstract:

One question that immediately comes to mind when studying ecosystem performance is what the proper unit of analysis is: the country, the state, the city, the region, or something smaller, like an incubator or accelerator? This paper suggests that the open, innovative American frontier that closed at the end of the 20th century has reemerged in the entrepreneurial economy on the U.S. campus. The contemporary campus entrepreneurial ecosystem offers the characteristics of Turner’s frontier: available assets, liberty and diversity while creating opportunity, and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation. A case study of the University of Chicago explores governance of the campus as an entrepreneurial ecosystem and the output produced by that campus ecosystem.

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Is Small Biz the Future?

In some discussions with an esteemed entrepreneurship researcher, I wondered what we are missing as analysts, researchers, educators, citizens, economic beings in today’s US? After some reflection, we began to discuss whether the drive to find, support and exploit innovation (the Schumpterian type) we had overlooked/missed the importance of small business? Traditional, local, stable small business? Had our global, consumer, and technological marvels drawn us away the humble, democratic supporting small business operators? (Reminder: I am reading David Potter’s People of Plenty).

I had begun thinking about this during Spring 2017 when I taught an undergraduate course in Small Business. Beyond accounting, finance, marketing — this course included a focus on family business, franchising, legacy (generational time horizons) and some other small business specific issues — topics that innovators, startup weekend participants, hackers, and sharks —  pushing to disrupt the world —  don’t generally talk or think about. Much of it was refreshing and more substantive and tangible when compared to our lean wielding, customer interviewing founders.

The reality is, many of the students we teach in class and work with in our extra and co curricular programs — competitions, accelerators — are building small ventures.

We also see a trend towards students working with their hands — from 3D printing and electronics to sewing and graphic design. These great new opportunities, evidenced by makerspaces and labs of all sorts, dovetail well with my epiphany on the importance and role of small business.

The Christian Science Monitor has a really interesting piece on manual labor being a hot new job for middle class students. My own foray into mechanical typewriters and work with a variety of founders highlights the shortage (and now high cost) in some fields where manual labor is required. Schuyler Velasco offers a fascinating Economy story on manual labor and visits the North Bennet Street School in Boston

Miranda Harter, a 2016 NBSS graduate, worked in retail inventory before enrolling in the school’s jewelry program. She’d be tasked with cataloguing accessories in an online database, mind-numbing work that put what she was missing in her career literally at her fingertips. “I was looking at these beautiful pieces of jewelry come across my desk, and I thought, I want to be making these things,” she remembers.

Ms. Harter now works full-time for a local jeweler in Somerville, and the owner allows her to use the space to make and sell her original pieces. It’s already proven more stable than her old job, which she lost during the Great Recession. “I’m working solid regular hours, I have a weekend, a boss who appreciates me,” she says. “That’s not something I experienced a lot in the retail world. To me, it seems like an honest profession, and more recession-proof. People are always getting married.”

Ms. Fruitman at NBSS says 30 is the average age of the student body, which means an “awful lot” of it is made up of career transitioners like Harter. “They’ve done college or some college, it wasn’t for them, or maybe they’ve even been out there working and realized that whatever it is they’re doing just isn’t satisfying.”

Fruitman is also describing herself. Before becoming a furniture maker, she majored in theater at Emerson College and worked as a photo stylist until the work dried up.

“I was at the point where I really wanted to do something that was tangible,” she says. “I didn’t know you could do this. I went to college because that’s what everybody does. And that’s what I was expected to do.”

Ocejo heard similar stories while profiling barbers, butchers, and high-end cocktail bartenders in Manhattan.

Richard Ocejo, a sociologist and the author of the new “Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy,” is featured in the piece. I am definitely going to download a sample on my Kindle app.

Lifelong Learning | @TheEconomist

On January 14 The Economist published a special report;  Life Education — with the lead article, Life Long Learning Has Become an Economic Imperative. I am very glad they’ve done this.

Over the past decade while completing my PhD on innovation and entrepreneurship on campus and working full 20170114_cuk400_0time for the past three years, I’ve become convinced that learning to learn on your own is a critical skill for the future. I’ve prodded and pushed my students in multiple directions — makerspaces, MOOCs, hackathons, and more. My students and colleagues have taken the lead on their own (blended courses, multi-university courses, self-learning, and private online tutors). For those curious and driven, this is an amazing time to learn.

The Economist special survey has some great articles and provides a solid range of topics to chew on. From the piece,

A paper published in 2013 by a trio of Canadian economists, Paul Beaudry, David Green and Benjamin Sand, questions optimistic assumptions about demand for non-routine work. In the two decades prior to 2000, demand for cognitive skills soared as the basic infrastructure of the IT age (computers, servers, base stations and fibre-optic cables) was being built; now that the technology is largely in place, this demand has waned, say the authors.

They show that since 2000 the share of employment accounted for by high-skilled jobs in America has been falling. As a result, college-educated workers are taking on jobs that are cognitively less demanding (see chart), displacing less educated workers.

This analysis buttresses the view that technology is already playing havoc with employment. Skilled and unskilled workers alike are in trouble. Those with a better education are still more likely to find work, but there is now a fair chance that it will be unenjoyable. Those who never made it to college face being squeezed out of the workforce altogether. This is the argument of the techno-pessimists, exemplified by the projections of Carl-Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, of Oxford University, who in 2013 famously calculated that 47% of existing jobs in America are susceptible to automation.

Whether a student, faculty, administrator or citizen — lifelong learning is the new reality. For those of us in higher education, its an extra special, once in a lifetime opportunity to use new models of instruction and delivery — and that is not code for online learning. What I am envisioning is more complex, textual and hands on than just online learning. I am thinking that the real world must become more of the campus rather than the digital world, but thats just me.

Campus as Frontier: High Growth Student Startups at US Colleges and Universities | #highered #entrepreneurship #startups #ecdev #TTO

Yes, I defended by dissertation in mid July, all the paperwork has been processed and the degree conferred. My dissertation, Campus as Frontier: High Growth Student Startups at US Colleges and Universities is now available via the Mason Archival Repository Service.

Here is a bit of the abstract:

This dissertation explores the complex social phenomena of students at US colleges and universities creating high growth firms and investigates the role, if any, played by the campus during the firm formation process. This dissertation employs mixed methods to better understand student entrepreneurs, their firms and the institutions where opportunity identification and firm formation processes began. Given the gap in the literature surrounding high growth firms created by students, no hypothesis is proposed or tested.

Feel free to email any thoughts, ideas, or questions.

WSJ On What College Can Teach Aspiring Entrepreneurs #highered

A nice, thorough piece by Anna Prior of the Wall Street Journal on what aspiring entrepreneurs can gain through their choice and management of their college experience. From the WSJ:

Going to college and starting a business can be expensive propositions. Business owners loaded with student debt may end up in a big financial hole—their families may have tapped out their resources helping to pay for school, leaving them unable to contribute to the business, and the entrepreneurs themselves may face a tough time qualifying for traditional business loans or other types of financing.

That’s why experts say it’s critical that potential business owners need to think about how much debt to take on and how to pay back student loans, right from the get-go.

There are many great topics, including what to study and where to go, in this article. Many of the topics similar to what I uncover in my forthcoming research.

Glad to see this article and I hope more students, families, and schools leaders and taking this issues into consideration as they consider higher education options and entrepreneurship.

Does the Campus Play a Role in the Creation of High Growth Student Startups? #Hackedu #Dissertation @GeorgeMasonU

I am in the final weeks of finishing my dissertation. My research question investigates the role the campus plays in the opportunity recognition and startup processes of high growth ventures created by students at US universities and colleges.

From Microsoft, Nike, and Dell to WordPress, Groupon, and Under Armour, many innovative and world changing firms have been conceived in the minds of students on the campuses of US universities and colleges.

My data suggests that the campus does play an important role and that in recent years entrepreneurship infrastructure on campus have had an increased impact. The challenge is that there is a wide range of campus assets available and as with all assets, the value extracted is dependent on the person in possession of said asset. My data also suggests that certain campuses produce high growth firms/entrepreneurs with regularity and that the numbers are increasing.

Looking forward to sharing more. I may post some chapter drafts in the coming days for people to take a look at. Thanks.

Are Universities Teaching the Wrong Entrepreneurship Process?

I’ve long wondered why so many schools support a business plan/VC model through contests and course work when most of their students will never be in the running for venture capital. Over the past few years through Startup Mason and other activities, we’ve moved to a more experiential model/process for entrepreneurship education. We’ve supported action, iteration and experimentation in lieu of planning. (Though many contests demand plans and/or executive summaries).

Dileep Rao at Forbes.com has an interesting piece arguing against teaching business plans and competitions and for a more hands on approach to learning entrepreneurship. There is much good in this piece for those who care about entrepreneurship education.  From Rao,

 As I am constantly repeating, the capital intensive VC model has worked in Silicon Valley, but seldom outside. While 88 percent of Silicon Valley’s billion-dollar entrepreneurs used venture capital, 91 percent outside Silicon Valley did not.

This means that universities may want to consider the following:

  • Teach students how to build businesses using capital efficiency, not just capital intensity. Most areas do not have successful VC funds. Even if they did, most VC funds do not build home runs. The top four percent of VC funds earn about 65% of industry IPO profits. Getting money from the other 96 percent may not do much to build a great company or to make you wealthy. With capital efficiency, students learn to grow without wasting both time and their opportunity in order to seek VC, only to be rejected by VCs. VCs reject about 98-99 percent of entrepreneurs who seek funds from them

  • Encourage students to build their business with smarts, not money. Less than five percent of VC funding goes to startups. This means that students need to learn how to build their business, and actually get some traction, before anyone will take them seriously. Universities should teach them how to do this.

  • Teach sales. Selling is the oxygen of a new business. To sell is to succeed. Unfortunately, many business schools believe that teaching sales has no academic value. Without sales, there is no business.

  • Encourage business startups rather than business plans. Universities organize business plan competitions with the hope that wise judges can pick winners. VCs, who are the foremost ‘wise judges’ in the business, fail to reach their target 80 percent of the time. If the VCs, who are full-time professionals, fail 80 percent of the time, why do universities think that their own ‘wise’ judges can do better?

  • Teach all students, rather than just entrepreneurship students or business-school students, how to build a business. I have found that many business-school students do not have a new-business opportunity to pursue. I would suggest casting a wider net in the hope that students in other schools have ideas for a new business that they want to develop and grow.

If you are involved in entrepreneurship education or considering studying entrepreneurship, read this entire article by Rao as it will give you many things to consider as your approach university entrepreneurship offerings.