Yesterday I interviewed an entrepreneur who graduated from Cornell with a Ph.D in Chemistry and went directly into a local startup. When I asked him why he would choose this path (seemingly more risky than a corporate or academic track), he smiled and said “what better time would there be?” I’ve heard that often—see our 800+ clips from entrepreneurs who started in college.
My conversation with the Ph.D graduate reminded me that even in demanding, rigorous academic settings such as Cornell, the entrepreneurial spirit is undaunted, finding its way to the surface. Sometimes this results in a new startup company, other times expressing itself as an entrepreneurial adventure on campus. Two examples come to mind.
1. Entrepreneurial Campus Adventure. Mac Bishop, an advisee of mine, started a very innovative student group with some others called fEEDBAK, with a stated goal “to provide apparel companies with targeted market research, strategic counsel, and creative design suggestions, while providing students with tangible industry experience and insight into the apparel production process. “ This is no trivial undertaking. Read about their work with Pendleton Wool here.
The students in fEEDBAK went through a complete simulation of running a small apparel brand – designing, producing, marketing, and selling a complete line. That means working together as an effective team, being creative, and meeting all kinds of deadlines and milestones—all great experiences for budding entrepreneurs.
2. Actual Companies run by students. In 2008, Student Agencies and E@C collaborated to create eLab, Cornell’s Cornell’s “newest opportunity for “High Potential Entrepreneurs”…. a non-profit (501c3) entity whose mission is to provide business acceleration services to Cornell Undergraduate Entrepreneurs. This is an exciting new accelerator for student entrepreneurs, and has aided various business concepts including, but not limited to:
- Ancillare (tactical outsourcing company)
- Anjolie Ayurveda (I can personally vouch for their wonderful all natural, handmade Ayurvedic soaps from India)
- Better Battery – (cheaper, longer lasting, more environmentally friendly laptop batteries.)
Should students consider entrepreurial activities in college?
As a college professor myself, I do warn students about mixing business with academics. On the academic side, classes, homework, exams, projects and presentations have due dates that are not typically fungible. On the business side, customers, suppliers, investors care only about executing the business processes in a timely way. Thus, an inherent conflict is always there for student entrepreneurs.
Still, I can’t help wondering why we in academia cannot do a better job of taking advantage of the “learning moments” that are an outcome of the ups and downs these entrepreneurial students are having with their businesses. It would be great to find a way to apply the tools of teaching to help surface the “lessons” students are learning and share them in a collaborative environment. At the same time, the classroom environment/discipline could help the students reflect, analyze and generalize the lessons to broader principles. And students could benefit from applying the frameworks and tools that come from a business education, while earning credit for work that helps to accelerate their businesses.
Hmm…how about a course called Experiential Entrepreneurship? Might just have to ponder that.