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Energy, Excitement, Entrepreneurial Studies

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Do you dream of running your own company? What about changing the world? If so, an entrepreneurship major is an academic path worth considering. Learning essential business skills and maybe even launching a venture while in college gives you a jump start on your future while offering a support network like no other.

Many colleges are ramping up entrepreneurial studies and encouraging students to consider entrepreneurship, whether they’re majoring in business or art. “I have always had the desire to answer to no one but myself and create things people can benefit from,” says recent University of San Diego graduate Kevin Gelfand. As co-founder of Shake Smart, a quick-service blended shake shop being marketed to university fitness complexes, Gelfand says his entrepreneurship-focused business management major helped him launch his company. While writing his business plan for a class, Gelfand narrowed his idea, researched the markets, and formally presented his idea, all of which gave him a solid understanding of starting a business.  

Gelfand found the process invigorating. “The drive is to continue bettering my business, and the way to do that is to learn more,” he says. That kind of attitude is what compels students to consider entrepreneurship as a vocation, says Alexander McKelvie, assistant professor in the Department of Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, even though today’s entrepreneurs differ greatly in ideas and ambitions. “People forget that entrepreneurs are creating social ventures and doing good,” McKelvie says. “Students are pursuing opportunities in different ways.”

Take High Point University senior Seth Gold. He says increasing the greater good is as important to him as being his own boss. “Learning helps you become a successful business and becoming a successful business helps you help people,” says Gold, the owner of Bamboo Apparel, a clothing company that uses sustainable resources. His company is transitioning to a model where profits will help women in developing countries become self-sufficient. “To be able to change someone’s life and to see that is great,” he says.

The runaway success of Bill Gates or Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is not lost on students today. Even though more than 90% of start-ups fail, the lure of being your own boss is garnering increasing interest. At Babson College, a leader in entrepreneurial studies for decades, Janet Strimaitis, Managing Director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, says combining classroom learning and real-life work experience imprints skills thoroughly. “We have action-based learning where students learn business basics and then they learn by doing,” she says.

Students use newly polished entrepreneurial skills in whatever manner suits their career path. John Jaquette, Director of Entreprenuership@Cornell, a campus-wide initiative to foster an entrepreneurial focus in all majors, says while developing excellent business ethics and work skills are mandatory, college students must be entrepreneurial about themselves, no matter what their field. He tells students: “You are going to be the sole proprietor of your own career.”

The college years are a great time for exploring the potential inherent in entrepreneurship. Dr. Randal Pinkett, winner of Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice in 2005 and author of Campus CEO, says students are at a prime time to test their own entrepreneurial spirit, whatever their endeavor. If they see, seek, and seize the opportunity when it comes, says Dr. Pinkett, their entrepreneurial path does not have to be confined to business alone. “It is about not waiting for someone to bring the opportunity to you,” he says. “My experience is that students naturally embody this mindset.”

Security of the university setting

Graduating with an entrepreneurial major or focus puts you at a distinct advantage if you want to be your own boss. You will have the practical know-how and will have mastered business basics like completing a business plan or knowing how to manage your own finances. “I think providing class instruction gives students the fundamentals and basics,” Dr. Pinkett says. “You will refine them with experience. Some things you just cannot get in a classroom.”

“The safety net that Babson provides is great,” says Alex Shearer, a Babson College sophomore with a longstanding interest in entrepreneurship. Shearer, who is majoring in entrepreneurship and minoring in finance, says the team-focused class work and the knowledge gained from his business classes are vital to his future success as an entrepreneur. “I learn by going out and failing and learning how to do it right,” he says. “If you have to learn it the hard way, it sticks so much better.” Babson’s Strimaitis agrees. “Entrepreneurship is a trial-and-error process,” she says. “We try to help [students] understand that it is okay to fail, but it is not okay to make the same mistake twice.”

Use your resources

Be sure to seek out extracurricular activities that will inspire your entrepreneurial drive. Campus-wide entrepreneurial competitions are a sure-fire way to polish your plans and might just launch you to the next level. At the very least, the platform gives you a chance to meet other students who are as equally driven and competitive as
you are.

For example, over the past three years, Cornell University student Kristen McClellan has been refining her own product, SnappyScreen, an airbrush sunscreen application system for hotels and beach resorts that efficiently disperses a fine mist of sunscreen, covering the user from head to toe. As a freshman, she pitched her idea in a Cornell Elevator Pitch Competition and came in second to a graduate student.

From there, McClellan, an industrial labor relations major has fine-tuned her business and her product in the eLab, Cornell’s business accelerator for the school’s undergraduate entrepreneurs. “The eLab is an unbelievable network of support,” she says, noting that it gives student entrepreneurs mentor relationships that help them work through tough business issues. “It is comforting to know you can reach out to successful entrepreneurs who have been there, done that,” McClellan says.

Bamboo Apparel’s Seth Gold participated in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, an international competition for students who are operating revenue-generating businesses, where he presented his idea to seasoned business owners. “That was real experience about what it will be like to pitch your company,” Gold says.

At Syracuse University, Victoria Di Napoli discovered that a capstone competition for seniors was a great forum for learning how to carry a product through from conception to launch. As part of the winning team, Di Napoli worked with students in all different majors to create a mini business. “You don’t realize how many resources you have around you,” she says.

Building teams

Even the most successful entrepreneurs did not do it alone, and your success depends on the team you assemble. “You have to know what you do well and what other people do well,” says Jaquette. Dr. Pinkett agrees. “My advice, unequivocally, is to build a winning team,” he says. A college setting is a goldmine of peers, professors, and advisors who can help you. Each person brings different knowledge and energy to a project. “You have to have the drive and passion from every single person,” Di Napoli says. “Each comes back with a positive impact and it fuels you.”

An entrepreneurial path will not be easy, but it will be an exhilarating and rewarding career. “I think if you have the passion, motivation, and work ethic, anyone can be an entrepreneur,” Gelfand says. “But, initially, at least, it is the toughest job to have. You have to have a long-term focus.”

Do you have the drive for this path? Bill Sherrill, entrepreneur and founder of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business, says those who like change and find change exciting are more adaptable to entrepreneurship. “In business, you have to change,” he says. “The ability to enjoy that and be excited by it makes all the difference in the world.”

“Knowing the whole concept of starting a business from scratch gives people a whole new perspective on how businesses work,” says Clint Pierce, who shares his tips for success in The Entrepreneur’s Rule Book. “But you have to believe you will succeed from the very beginning,” says Pierce, an entrepreneur who eventually sold his brand and event marketing company for millions. “It is all about perseverance,” he says. “You don’t have to have a million dollars or an elaborate business plan. You need a great idea, good common sense, and people around you who have good business sense.”

Your entrepreneurial spirit is essential, Jaquette says, no matter how you chart your career path. “There is no straight line,” he says. “The best decision is the one you make and then own whatever that is.”

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