THE BLOG
09/26/2014 03:18 pm ET Updated Nov 26, 2014

Entrepreneurship Education Not Just for Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is enjoying tremendous growth at our colleges and universities. Courses and programs are now common at institutions large and small, numbering in the hundreds.

But let's be honest: The vast majority of students who enroll in these programs will not become entrepreneurs per se. Only a few will create apps that make them millions, or NGOs that change the world.

Indeed, the majority of students in entrepreneurship programs won't run businesses or nonprofits of their own -- at least not initially or successfully.

As a college president who has devoted a great deal of time and fundraising energy to starting an entrepreneurship center on my campus, Lewis & Clark, perhaps I should not acknowledge those facts. But I believe what students gain from entrepreneurship programs is at least as exciting as the fantasy. It's important to realize that an education in entrepreneurship has great utility not just for entrepreneurs, but also for employees in more conventional workplaces, too.

Indeed, the lexicon has a word for employees who move organizations ahead with their innovation, creative problem solving, and ability to make connections between diverse people and ideas -- who make an impact with their entrepreneurial savvy, in other words. "Intrapreneurs," they're called.

And such inside-the-organization entrepreneurs appear to be growing in stature. Business and tech magazines including Forbes, Wired, and Fast Company have all devoted articles to the merits of intrapreneurship in the last two years.

A great example of an intrapreneur from the Lewis & Clark community is Michael Young, who, after graduating with a B.A. in 1997, worked as a creative technologist at the New York Times. Young was part of a team that revolutionized the Times' approach to digital storytelling and transformed it from a newspaper to a news and information company. Hearing him describe this work, one quickly realizes that he and his colleagues worked like entrepreneurs; they "looked around corners," as he puts it, to see where technology and content consumption patterns were moving and creatively positioned the Times to meet them there.

Young has since left and started his own company. The reverse has happened with another alum from my campus. A 2008 graduate, Amber Case has already successfully launched and sold her own technology startup -- to a company, Esri, that now employs her as director of its R&D center here in Portland.

Her ability to innovate and lead both inside and outside is a big reason why our board of trustees recently elected Case, making her one of the youngest trustees of any private college or university in the country.

On our campuses, we must celebrate and empower our budding intrapreneurs as well as our future entrepreneurs. The recognition of intrapreneurship broadens the relevance, and potential beneficiaries, of entrepreneurship education.

We already know how to cultivate intrapreneurial habits: The skills and strategic intelligence that we help develop in entrepreneurs -- the ability to craft strategy and marketing plans, assemble a team and generate support, research a problem or opportunity at hand -- apply neatly to intrapreneurs as well.

Our graduates should be encouraged and prepared to bring the entrepreneurial spirit and habits of mind to their work, hatching new ideas and collaborating with others to put them into action -- even if they're not capital-e "entrepreneurs."

That's how our intrapreneurial graduates provide maximum benefit to their employers and the communities those organizations serve. If that is not a powerful expression of our institutions' missions, I don't know what is.

In the midst of our enthusiasm for entrepreneurs, let's recognize the value of forward-thinking, problem-solving, creative individuals in all parts of organizations. Entrepreneurship is not just for entrepreneurs.

This commentary originally appeared in Trusteeship magazine, May/June 2014.