Note: This is a guest post by Douglas Mellinger, Vice-Chairman and Co-founder of Foundation Source and Trustee at Cogswell College. He recently led a study showing that most colleges aren’t teaching students valuable entrepreneurial skills. We’re honored to have him on our blog:
Teaching Entrepreneurs: Are entrepreneurs born or made?
Can you learn it in school, or are you simply born with the innate ability to create a business? After all, for every Steve Jobs who dropped out of college, there is Sergey Brin of Google who got his degree.
Right now, there are millions of students in United States who have just graduated from high school and are making decisions about their future at a time of great uncertainty. They have to make choices about whether to continue their education or enter the workforce, including possibly following their dream to start their own business.
There is a myth that entrepreneurs can succeed despite, and in some cases, because they dropped out of college. But what if the colleges simply weren’t teaching the right skill sets? And what if they got to start and run businesses in college? For over 200 years, a practical stage of doctor graduate schooling has been a residency — learning on the job. That is a model we must embrace for business.
Entrepreneurs may have special skill sets and appetite for risk, but some of the most successful speak of the important management lessons they learn from school. That is why we must evolve our educational approach to create a balance between principles and the practical application of creating and running a businesses.
In short, our schools have to change, and become entrepreneurial themselves. A recent study illustrates this fact:
At Cogswell College, we have embraced the model of teaching entrepreneur skills, as some others have. This approach is vital for the United States to compete in a global economy that is increasingly global and entrepreneurial. Across the globe, a new era of capitalism in Asia and India has inspired young would-be entrepreneurs to create businesses that will compete around the globe.
To meet that challenge, our students must be given the skill sets to do what Americans have always done best -– identify new opportunities and innovations and create businesses that provide cutting-edge new products and services. An entrepreneurial residency enables students to create and be part of dozens of business ventures, make mistakes and learn from them. And perhaps most importantly, have incubated an idea that will become a viable and vibrant business.
Northern California can directly benefit from this educational approach. For example, about 80 percent of Cogswell students hail from local communities. And if they create their business while in a local college, it’s more likely to grow right here.
So what needs to be done?
Public-private partnerships are vital to fuel entrepreneurism. Students need professors who have created or built businesses. Silicon Valley is bursting with entrepreneurs. It’s vital that colleges, entrepreneurs and companies collaborate to provide the practical training that is necessary. As a recent Zogby/463 poll indicates, Americans today see a gap in what we are teaching students and what they need to be competitive. According to the survey, 67 percent of Americans don’t think colleges are focused enough on teaching entrepreneurial skills. But 76 percent said that students launching a business while still in college will make them more successful in creating jobs and opportunities after graduation. They are right.
Entrepreneurism is about risk-taking, identifying opportunities and adapting to changing circumstances. That is what we must ask our colleges to do as we look at a rapidly changing global economy. If we do, the next Steve Jobs or Sergey Brin may well both create the next big thing at the same time he or she gets a degree.