Campus Entrepreneurship Supports the New Economic Reality

Stephen Daze is the Founder of Agawa Entrepreneurship Development Corporation and can
be reached at sdaze@agawacorp.com

The message is clear: entrepreneurs create jobs and stimulate economies, at the same time, more of our future leaders are interested in pursuing entrepreneurism. New economic realities and student interest are driving growth in the area of entrepreneurship support and capacity building; this growth is creating strategic advantage for recruitment efforts, student success, fund-raising activities and regional economic development. Based on the ongoing review of research, survey results and best practices, the following broad success factors have been developed as a “best case” template in building a best-in-class campus entrepreneurship support ecosystem:

1. Leadership and Strategy– First and foremost, there needs to be palatable support for entrepreneurship capacity building at all levels, especially the most senior. Entrepreneurship support initiatives must be more than a “new program.” The promotion of entrepreneurism and support for student ventures must be incorporated into strategy, policies and procedures across the institution. In addition, the leader of entrepreneurship initiatives must be adept at dealing within an academic institution, yet also be uniquely qualified as someone who is familiar with entrepreneurship and building the conditions that lead to entrepreneurial success.

2. Funding – There are two parts to funding: first, sustained and sufficient funding for entrepreneurship support; all successful projects require appropriate capacity and funding for supportive projects and initiatives, not just funding for the efforts of one individual. Second, funding to support student ventures is a key ingredient and should likely include some combination, or all of: micro financing programs; access to angel and venture capital networks; and, seamless path finding to available grants and loan programs.

3. Community Engagement – Key to the success of any new venture is access to relevant communities which might not be easily accessible. Most student entrepreneurs don’t have experience with, or connections into, these networks. Formal and informal networking opportunities are required for students (and faculty) to link to and learn from potential clients, collaborators, strategic partners, professionals and suppliers.

4. Mentoring – Linked to community engagement, but important enough to have its own category, is mentoring. As with industry and professional networks, students don’t often have deep connections to the key individuals who can guide them along the entrepreneurial path. Formal mentor programs provide great opportunity for alumni involvement and community engagement. Interesting to note that in the most recent Princeton Review of the best Campus entrepreneurship programs, the top 25 institutions all had multiple mentoring programs.

5. Incubation – While a physical incubator or space is not essential, the benefits are very attractive. A formal incubator or “co-location” space provides for a leverage point for recruitment of students and funders, a focal point for broad cross-campus entrepreneurship initiatives and an opportunity for like-minds to benefit from the energy, synergies, competition and peer learning that often spurs great innovation.

6. Learning – Entrepreneurship courses are different than business courses. Entrepreneurship courses cannot just be re-purposed or rebranded business courses they must have a focus on early-staged, entrepreneurial ventures. Also vital to a healthy entrepreneurship ecosystem is the non-credit learning available to students to include personal development, guest speakers and activities & competitions that provide experimentation and skills development opportunities.

7. Celebration – The promotion of the available opportunities and capacity, as well as the public celebration of success is key to long term sustainability. All stakeholders need to be well informed and engaged in the ongoing successes and activity of the initiative. Proactive communications and celebrations are vital for student recruitment, fund and sponsor development and for the student entrepreneurs and their business success.

Many practices, best and otherwise, have provided an opportunity to learn and adapt. While some have a head start on entrepreneurship programming and branding, many are playing catch-up. On a positive note, many worthwhile initiatives can be implemented quickly and efficiently with lasting impact. However, speed of implementation is key to gain mind share on campuses and provide economic impact in communities.

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