Entrepreneurship in Academia

posted by on 2009.11.17, under Academia, Entrepreneurship, Other, Shameless Plug

Some of the best classes I have taken in business school have been entrepreneurship classes – Dr. Grossman’s Technology Commercialization, Managing New and Growing Businesses that teach comprehensive approaches to both written and “living cases.” (living cases involve working directly with a CEO or leaders with notable organizations) Next semester I will be taking a class with the CEO and Founder for Kinkos, Paul Orfalea The course is open to a select number of students by invite only, and will be my first MBA class that is not taught by a prof with a Ph.D.  Other classes I plan on taking are Social Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Finance.

I believe that there is a cycle to entrepreneurship, and the ideal cycle in my situation seems to suggest two stages take place in Academia.   The first stage is my current graduate education.  The second is a possible future in teaching and higher educational research  .   Pre-MBA, I believed there should be a experiential stage between these two, so that the second stage serves value to others, at least in Entrepreneurship.  However lately I have found myself challenging this belief, and considering an immediate transition into Academia as a professional, and pursuing a Ph.D.  Of course, a Ph.D is not needed to educate others, (Orfalea is an example of this) however it seems very few other approaches gain the credibility needed to be successful (outside of the irregular $200 million sale of a company).  

The transition from industry to a classroom had a learning curve, and I can only assume that if I delay higher educational pursuits, I will face more of these.  However, I am still weighing the pros and cons of such a decision, more importantly trying to understand the value of entrepreneurial studies in an academic environment to society, and most importantly, whether my skills and passions align with it.

Affiliation with a research-intensive university for 4 years also provides a wealth of resources to explore ideas, and possibly even pursue entrepreneurial ventures within the confines of the curriculum.  Dr. Kiesner from LMU is considered a pioneer in building Entrepreneurship into Business School curriculum, and is known for unorthodox methods.  Further, at the Social Innovation Fast Pitch event at USC, 2 of 6 judges were professors, who have been and continue to be very involved in industry.  Microfinance as we love it today was developed by a professor (Muhammad Yunus), who won the Nobel Peace Prize.  His career is full of entrepreneurial ventures on the side, and is certainly something to be admired.  In his case, however, the majority of his contribution to the industry came after becoming a professor.  

These type of role models have caused me to ponder how long I should wait before becoming an educator.  On one hand, I might lose the entrepreneurial spirit after 4 years of intense study, and several more of research and teaching to secure tenure and never carry out any of my ideas.  On the other hand, the educational experience may be enlightening and an engine of newer, more innovative ideas that can be executed through different channels (educational grants, community involvement, published properties, or ideally for me – film).  Somewhere in the middle is the concern if I will be qualified to be an educator at such a level.  Certainly I am not right now, but I have to imagine that I need to plan ahead somewhat so that I am ready when the time comes – a Ph.D program takes 4 years.  

Perhaps the key element to all of this is timing.  Business ventures can be a careful formula of a brilliant idea and exceptional management yet still result in failure,  Every successful entrepreneur I have spoken with or studied credits timing – which involves a stroke of luck among other things.  Perhaps a person’s decision to become a successful educator in entrepreneurship depends on how they time such a venture in the larger schedule of their life experiences.  As inspirational as it is learning from a professor full amazing experiences , it is arguably more discouraging taking a  class with a professor full of experience but with exhausted insights and a jaded attitude.  Sometimes these professors can have the appeal of a former hometown hero quarterback that never moved on past highschool.   

I suspect that if timing is the critical factor for success, then it will be extremely important to surround myself with the right people and environment to be able to hear the calling and respond accordingly.  Possibly I am hearing it now, and I just need to think through some of the beliefs I have established – It may be unnecessary for me to be a successful entrepreneur to be a successful entrepreneurial academic, Maybe I need to ask the following questions –  Will I have time to both explore my ambitions and teach about the journey? Will higher educational studies be the only way for my mind to generate such ideas? Will higher educational studies prevent me from being able to execute any idea at all?  

When asked in 2003 about how he felt about a lawsuit and having ties cut with Clayton Dubilier (Kinkos buyout firm), Paul Orfalea responded – 

“It’s been agony, and I won’t miss the business or Clayton, Dubilier,” says Orfalea, who now devotes his time to building day care centers and teaching a course at the University of California, Santa Barbara, his alma mater. “I’m building day care centers. I like teaching school. I have a life. I’ve got better things to do.” 

There are other quotes that describe his pride in building the company from UCSB’s campus in an office so small “ the copy machine had to be lugged out onto the sidewalk” to nearly 1800 stores, that sold for billions to FedEx.  I am extremely excited for the class on several levels, as a student, entrepreneur, and aspiring educator.  


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