Educating Student-Entrepreneurs

Imagine being one of 22 students chosen from a pool of 150, for an internship where you are required to develop a product, from conception to completion, with a team of strangers--in 11 weeks. This intensive program challenged students' skills in ways that extended well beyond their classroom knowledge; they needed to be innovative, adaptable, collaborative, creative, and market savvy. With guidance from industry mentors, teams performed all the work required to successfully launch their new games in the market. The result: four new video games, created by students in the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI) Summer Innovation Program at Becker College, will be published this fall: Cat Tsunami, Limbs, Many Mini Things, and Midnight Terrors.

Welcome to the new world of college learning, where innovation and business launches are part of how students define their futures. In the Forbes magazine article "Why 20-Somethings Are the Most Successful Entrepreneurs," Brock Blake makes the case that "the grand slams of entrepreneurship come from the young and ill-experienced 20-somethings." They offer a fresh perspective, have nothing to lose, and "can look at solving problems with a completely different mindset...untainted from the way-it-is-supposed-to-be mindset that is so prevalent in most boardrooms." Indeed, entrepreneurs are starting earlier and earlier in life. A survey by the Kaufman Foundation revealed that "38% of people between the ages of 8 and 24 hope to start a business."

Herein lies the conundrum. Today there are more entrepreneurs than ever before and they are, according to Henry Elkus in the Wall Street Journal, in a "dogfight of modern entrepreneurship." The Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity indicates "the entrepreneurial rate in the U.S. is already well above the bubble of 15 years ago," composed of "20 million non-employer businesses out there today, with more starting every day." But the U.S. does not have a hold on the entrepreneurial marketplace. The Babson College Global Entrepreneurship Monitor GEM, an annual survey that polls entrepreneurs ages 18 to 64 from 54 different countries, finds nearly 400 million active entrepreneurs around the world.

This highly competitive entrepreneurial marketplace presents another challenge to young entrepreneurs. "Performance Persistence in Entrepreneurship," a Harvard Business School working paper, indicates that "first-time entrepreneurs have only an 18% chance of succeeding." But it is not just young entrepreneurs in the dogfight. A Harvard Business Review blog, "Entrepreneurs Get Better with Age," conveys: "Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are over 50 as under 25. The vast majority--75%--have more than six years of industry experience, and half more have more than 10 years when they create their start up."

So what does this mean for those of us in higher education? All students must be educated to be entrepreneurial, regardless of their field of study. All students must be given the knowledge needed for a particular industry and an entrepreneurial mindset. At Becker College, we call this the agile mindset. An agile mindset values learning and adaptability over knowing. It consists of four competencies: empathy, to uncover insights and human needs in times of ambiguity; divergent thinking, to find, frame, and address problems not yet known; an entrepreneurial outlook, to create value in all that they do; and social and emotional intelligence skills, to collaborate with others to create solutions. Becker's core curriculum provides student-entrepreneurs not only with the knowledge to succeed in their chosen profession, but also with the soft skills required to navigate complexity and disruption and thrive in a volatile marketplace.

Our future depends upon the contributions of young entrepreneurs who are eager and full of ideas and creativity, but who often lack the skills to effectively implement their ideas in a sustainable model. The agile mindset delivers those skills so student-entrepreneurs can identify unmet or new emerging marketplace needs (empathy), find solutions to uncertainty through creative ideas and multiple solutions (divergent thinking), rethink ways to create value when faced with complex challenges and unstructured problems (entrepreneurial outlook), and navigate ambiguity and complexity through an awareness and understanding of one's own emotions as well as the emotions and needs of others (social and emotional intelligence).

Student-entrepreneurs who graduate with an agile mindset can become pillars of the global economy, launching fresh ideas and revitalizing and reinvigorating the global marketplace in ways that benefit us all.