Tune in to just about any address on the economy by President Obama, and you’ll hear these all-American buzzwords: Entrepreneur. Start-up. Small business. Facebook. In the Great Recession, building an idea into a business and creating something from the ground-up is not just symbolic of the American dream—it’s a life-preserver for a weak economy. Small firms (those with 500 employees or less) have generated an impressive 64 percent of the net new jobs over the past 15 years and continue to employ over half of all private sector employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder that the Obama administration is working on helping entrepreneurs —legislation like the Small Business Jobs Act and initiatives like Startup America, are working to remove outdated regulations, subsidize start-up loans, lift capital barriers and reduce red tape for the start-up-minded.
But the White House isn’t the only institution focusing on entrepreneurs—a crop of American schools, universities, mentoring programs, and new websites are just itching to train the next generation of Mark Zuckerbergs. But can entrepreneurship actually be taught?
A new study by Massachusetts’ Babson College suggests it can. Professors at the top-ranked entrepreneurship program surveyed nearly 4,000 alumni who graduated between 1985 to 2009 found that taking two or more core entrepreneurship courses positively influenced students’ intentions to launch their own business and the likelihood of them actually doing so—both at graduation and years after. Writing a business plan in college and post-graduate job dissatisfaction also played a role.
“Passion can’t necessarily be taught, but it can certainly be nurtured,” said Kendall Artz, executive director of the entrepreneurship program at Baylor University in Texas. Over the course of the four-year Bachelor of Business degree, or one-year MBA, students take workshop classes where they flesh out their start-up ideas, investigate potential markets and come up with a business plan, and financing, which trains them to approach banks and angel investors. The courses rely heavily on case studies and mentorship. For those who have the desire and gumption to take the entrepreneurial plunge, learning these skills can increase the chance of success. “We focus on helping students to develop the tools and the contacts necessary to help them start a business,” says Artz.
them to be creative—you either are or you aren’t.”
The Babson study also found that more education isn’t necessarily the answer, nor are family ties. Having parents who were entrepreneurs had no significant influence on intentions to jump into the start-up market, and there was no difference between those in undergraduate school and those with MBAs.
For many students, simply surrounding themselves with other potential entrepreneurs can be effective. Following graduation, Zachary Bouzan-Kaloustian, a 2007 graduate of Babson’s undergraduate entrepreneurship program, secured employment at a traditional 9-5 business job in Boston, working towards becoming a manager. But after three years at the company, he decided it wasn’t for him and trading his more traditional corporate job for a business development internship at Four Square in New York City. He says that in addition to his business school training, meeting community entrepreneurs and exposure to start-up case studies at the Babson program gave him confidence to make the career change.