More And More Young Entrepreneurs Are Arriving On Campus

My favourite time of year.  The beginning of a new academic year. (By the way, my office is the first bay window on the top floor up on the top right in the picture above — stop by and visit sometime!)

When I left academics years ago to go into the private sector as a healthcare entrepreneur, I was shocked how much I missed the rhythm of the school year my first couple of years away from teaching. 

This year’s freshman class has moved into their dorms and are ready for their new beginning.

The Beloit College Mind-Set List has labelled the class of 2015 the “Internet Class”.  The authors of this annual list tell us that this year’s freshmen have grown up in an age “when everything from parents analysing childhood maladies to their breaking up with boyfriends and girlfriends, sometimes quite publicly, have been accomplished on the Internet.”

We continue to see the entrepreneurial mind-set deeply rooted in this group.

Typically, we start with about seven or eight students entering Belmont intending to major in entrepreneurship.  They are often are hard core group who are ready to hit the ground learning about all things entrepreneurship.

Over the four (or so) years until they graduate, their numbers usually grow to about 25-30 as more students from their class realise that where they want to go in their careers is a path defined by entrepreneurship.

This year’s freshman class is starting out at about 20 students!

So now the forecasting fun begins.  Will the class of 2015 grow by the typical 20 students?  Or is the growth a multiple, and will they grow to 60-80 by their senior year? 

Like any entrepreneur, I see this growth in our program as a good problem.  But as an grizzled, road tested entrepreneur I know what fast growth can do if you are not careful!!

This year’s freshman will find many improvements in our program.

We have fully implemented the shift in our curriculum to the business modelling approach.  While business plans are still part of what they learn, they are positioned simply as a tool to communicate the business model to investors.

They will also benefit from a major shift in where and when we teach. While the classroom is an important learning environment, we are putting more and more emphasis on learning outside the classroom. 

We have created lots of co-curricular innovations over the past eight years, but they have grown into a difficult array of programs to navigate.  We offer hatcheries to start businesses, various and sundry mentor programs, legal and accounting clinics, seed funding, early stage funding, peer roundtable groups, and so forth.  We realised that many students seemed a bit overwhelmed by what we offered and were not sure what they really needed.

So this year we are focusing our efforts on putting some structure into the co-curricular learning environment.  I have two new team members to help with this effort.  Lisa Davis has joined us as Program Coordinator of the co-curricular programs.  We will be assisted in this initiative this year by veteran tech entrepreneur John Wark, who is serving as our entrepreneur in residence working with our practicing student entrepreneurs.

We also have two new campus-based businesses to join our array of retail and service businesses already in place.  We have two students starting a music store — a natural for Nashville — and are starting an app development company through the collaboration with our alumni who started the app firm Aloompa.

We will be trying to engage the class of 2015 early.  We cannot wait until they arrive in our classes their sophomore or junior years.  They are arriving ready to connect and ready to learn, so we will get them integrated into our co-curricular learning opportunities.

So this year I have a heightened excitement to the beginning of classes.  More budding entrepreneurs creating more challenges and more opportunities.  What more could an entrepreneur in academia ask for?