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William T. Abare, Jr. Headshot

Private Colleges Need to Foster Entrepreneurship

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Forbes magazine recently reported that over 50% of the working population (120 million individuals) now works in a small business. Small businesses have generated over 65% of the net new jobs since 1995.

In this new economy, the challenge for private colleges is how to prepare our students to become entrepreneurs?

From my own experience as the president of Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida and from what I have learned from my counterparts at small private schools around the country, I believe that we can rival business schools in the job we do in educating students and preparing them to be entrepreneurs.

Last April, the Flagler Enactus team won the national championship and won the right to represent the United States in the Enactus World Cup competition held in Cancun, Mexico this past September. This marked the third time that we have been national champions. Enactus brings together teams from around the world to showcase how college students use entrepreneurial action to create business opportunity in their community or in other communities around the world. We placed in the top 16 at the Enactus World Cup.

There are more than 500 colleges and universities in the U.S. that have Enactus teams, and there is only one division for all of these teams. More than 150 teams competed in the national championship held in Kansas City last April.

Senior executives from Wal-Mart, Google, Microsoft, General Electric and Dell Labs typically judge the competition. Some of these companies have extended job offers on the spot to members of Flagler's Enactus team.

Our team presented the Passport Pretzels project, a hybrid job-training program for St. Augustine's homeless shelter. Shelter residents make pretzels and learn culinary skills that will get them certification in the food service industry.

An entrepreneur needs to understand and make judgments in context, to see the big picture and to communicate effectively with people who have different perspectives, as well as work with those who have diverse areas of expertise. He needs to challenge the status quo to solve problems. Critical thinking is vital along with effective writing and speaking skills. The ability to negotiate, resilience, persistence and determination are keys to success.

Today's liberal art graduates learn all of these skills. A recent poll by the Pew Research Foundation found that these Millennials are confident, upbeat and open to change. They want to pursue ideals that are important to them and give back to society. I believe all of these traits fuel an entrepreneurial spirit.

Flagler is not the only private college fostering entrepreneurship. Emerson College in Boston now offers a year-long immersion in the study of entrepreneurship that addresses how to build and launch a new business venture. The faculty is all working professionals with entrepreneurial experience and advanced academic backgrounds.

McPherson College in Kansas, a college with just 600 students, recently hired its first director of entrepreneurship to oversee the Transformative Entrepreneurship minor that helps students better understand the risks and successes involved in beginning an entrepreneurial venture. The college created the Horizon Fund with micro grants up to $500 to help students carry out innovative ideas. The Fund has been enormously successful with more than half of the 72 grants seeing full success and 13 ideas receiving multiple grants.

The Center for Integrated Entrepreneurship at Hiram College in Ohio integrates the concepts of entrepreneurship into the liberal arts through curricular and extra-curricular activities that will help students see themselves as entrepreneurs who can add value to their communities and profit from their passions.

Bowdoin College in Maine offers the Thomas Andrew McKinley '06 Entrepreneur Grant to set up businesses in poor countries. One student studied in Ghana and set up African Art Stands, an import/export nonprofit. She spent her spring semester making contacts with artists and shipping artwork and crafts back to Alaska, her home state, where she has not only sold works, but also earned new commissions for some of the artists.

Private colleges are reaching out to alumni who have started successful businesses and asking them to speak on campus. At Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA alumni include Graham Mackenzie '74, who pioneered smart cards and prepaid debit cards for use by Armed Forces personnel overseas and Adam Fisch '84, principal partner at Ampericon, an energy conservation firm he founded.

Private colleges need to reach out to their local community to identify and recruit retired entrepreneurs who would add value as adjunct professors. We need to broaden the curricula so that all students will be required to take business courses that will give them an understanding of basic financial principals.

In this uncertain economy, our students may not become entrepreneurs themselves, but they will probably work for one. We need to prepare our students for jobs that may not exist today, but will be created by visionary entrepreneurs.