September 2012 Issue – Expert Insight

paul-mcmanusExpert Insight

It Takes A Village to Educate an Entrepreneur

Paul McManus, Managing Director, ITEC

Entrepreneurship is the engine of growth in our economy.  Entrepreneurs bring innovation to market that truly change the world and make the U.S. competitive in global markets. They also are net-creators of jobs, wealth and prosperity. Working with students every day it’s rewarding to know that they truly understand that entrepreneurship is one of the most important aspects of our economy and increasingly, becoming a self-directed career path for many.

Whether considering starting their own enterprise, joining others at the ground floor or wanting to be a great employee, students know that they need to be the ones to make things happen. This is achieved when they are able to exercise creativity, recognize and seize opportunities, harness resources, be supportive teammates, take calculated risks and be effective leaders when needed. More to the point, our students know they have to not only develop a wide range of hard and soft skills to be able to do the job but also need hands-on experience to develop the kind of confidence, instincts and seasoning that gets results.

Each has a deep sense of mission, to spend a life doing good work and having an impact on the world…. choosing the entrepreneurial path as not just a way to make money, but to make meaning.

The Brave New World

I returned to Boston University (GSM’86) because I saw that entrepreneurship and the venture capital industry I worked in was undergoing a great change.  In just one decade, startups have gone from two guys in a garage to becoming true products of globalization, what we call “born-global”, “micro-multinationals” spanning time, distance, language and cultures to find resources, talent, capital, markets and customers. Their methods have evolved from fast… to agile…. to the now omnipresent “lean”.  (You can never be too rich or too thin – Wallis Simpson.) The Internet, other advanced technologies and improved practices mean the startups can launch and get traction for a fraction of the cost of a decade ago.  Funding now comes increasingly from angels and crowds. A trending meme in social media these days laments the death of venture capital as we know it, reference Rachael Metz’s excellent interview of Fred Wilson in Technology Review, “Fred Wilson on Why the Collapse of Venture Capital is Good.”

Obsolete Before Getting Started?

Entrepreneurs have long been seen as self-taught, self-made individualists. Carnegie, Ford, Rockefeller, Eastman, Jobs, Gates, Roddick, Winfrey or Zuckerberg never sat through E401: Intro. to Entrepreneurship. Thus, there has always be a question: “Can entrepreneurship be taught?” and if yes, “Are the world’s increasingly expensive universities and their explosion of programs and entrepreneurship curriculum the best place for modern day Pygmalion’s to learn the entrepreneurial craft?” In a world now crowded with Y Combinator, TechStars, 500Startup and an accelerator on almost every corner, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and prolific angel investor doesn’t think so.  In 2010, Theil sparked a national controversy when he launched the Peter Thiel Fellowships giving young adults $100,000 over two years to leave college and pursue entrepreneurship full time. Timing is everything so was I now obsolete within months of taking this role?

The Best of Both Worlds

Entrepreneurship is about leading transformation and creating change.  But, if there is anything that I have learned in my time here at ITEC, teaching entrepreneurship is about place-making and community. The entrepreneurial titans of bygone eras developed within innovative and adventurous cultures.  Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, and Detroit teemed with innovation and entrepreneurial activity and were filled with informal communities of innovators, teachers, mentors, patrons where “students” could tap into rich human networks of contacts and gain access to talent, resources and capital.  Today, this same environment that can be found on the campus of our major urban research universities; a place where cultures collide, fields intersect and disciplines comingle. Where the academe, investors, industry, government come together to build the entrepreneurial communities that power our economy and create jobs, wealth and prosperity.

We have the great fortune to be a part of one of the country’s leading research universities, located in the heart of one of the country’s leading innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems.  Our responsibility is to give our students the best of both worlds. First, to help prepare our them for their entrepreneurial future and develop those hard and soft skills that will be necessary to do the job. But, perhaps more important, it is to immerse them to this rich ecosystem at our doorstep and provide them with experiences that will develop the kind of confidence, instincts and seasoning that get will get results in their careers in an increasingly entrepreneurial world. For the enterprising, we do this by giving them the chance to take that those first company building steps here as a member of the BU community.

We believe it takes a village to educate an entrepreneur. What do you think?

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