How Business Schools Are Responding To The Rising Tide of Entrepreneurship

Columbia mentors, including 37 Angels founder Angela Lee, helped the two candidates develop their entrepreneurial skills, and they received invaluable assistance in the Columbia Startup Lab’s summer program, where they took advantage of office space, legal advice, and marketing expertise, Wilson says.

“That was where we hashed out the idea that became Thursday Boots,” Wilson says.

Across the U.S., business schools are ramping up entrepreneurship programming as students pursue dreams of lucrative, world-leading innovation  – and start-up glory.

At the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School’s Goergen Entrepreneurial Management Program, lecturer Patrick FitzGerald has seen a tripling over the last four years in the number of his students setting forth post-haste into entrepreneurial enterprises. Now, seven per cent of Wharton students are starting companies right after graduation, a five-fold increase over 2007, FitzGerald says.

At the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, some 40% of the class of 2015, 103 out of 280 students, are studying entrepreneurship – a “recent surge,” says Ted Zoller, director of the school’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.


“Entrepreneurship is entering the mainstream in the economy and therefore it’s starting to enter the mainstream in the business schools,” Zoller says. “You’re starting to see people increasingly seeking out high-growth venturing as a pathway for their professional success.”

The U.S. tech boom, expanding from the West Coast, functions as a main impetus toward entrepreneurship, Zoller says.

Kenan-Flagler Center for Entrepreneurial Studies director Ted Zoller

Kenan-Flagler Center for Entrepreneurial Studies director Ted Zoller

“We’ve seen really the rebirth of Silicon Valley, and the most important companies that are making strides are the ones that have IPOd in the last five years,” Zoller says. “Students are increasingly interested in these types of companies.”

At the same time, technological advances and availability of cheaper talent – such as skilled bachelor’s degree graduates – outside Silicon Valley have made it easier and far less expensive to start companies, FitzGerald says.

“Where it used to cost $200,000, you can now build a company for half that,” FitzGerald says. “You can build something quite quickly and quite cheaply.”

As these tech-driven companies are spreading, highly ranked business schools are right on their heels, Zoller says. “Any top 20 business school needs to be relevant in every technology hotspot,” Zoller says. “You’re seeing all the major business schools focusing on New York, Chicago, Boston, Silicon Valley, and increasingly overseas: Shanghai, London.


“In tomorrow’s business market, business schools will need to be where the greatest growth is.”

Many schools are planning satellite operations in the tech hubs, and are forging links with graduates already entrenched in them.

“Many of them have built the capacity to create a really cohesive cadre of alumni in each of these markets that helps their students get placed and become leaders in the given region,” Zoller says.

Such a strategy can present a defense against what higher-education consultant Tim Westerbeck describes as “incursions into their markets by good brands with hybrid (on-line and on-campus) delivery models.” To his B-school clients, Westerbeck, founder of Eduvantis consulting, advocates “a high-touch service model with the employers and entrepreneurs in (their) particular local market,” with attention to diversity.

“If you pursue this, no doubt your value proposition around entrepreneurship education, resources and networking must reflect the very different markets, industry types, and startup communities that exist around the country and around the world,” Westerbeck says.


Stanford’s Graduate School of Business saw a considerable jump in inclination toward entrepreneurship in the class of 2013, with 18% of grads starting businesses within a year, compared to 13% in 2012. The percentage didn’t change much in 2014 over 2013, but the types of startups did. Seventeen per cent of class of 2013 entrepreneurs went into finance, 13% into internet services, and 11% into media and entertainment. In 2014, the number in finance dropped to 11%, while the number in internet services and media and entertainment both plummeted to 2%; nine per cent went into each of three areas: energy and clean technology; health care; and software.

This year, Kenan-Flagler started its Adams Apprenticeship program, selecting the top entrepreneurship prospects from its student body to work with UNC entrepreneur alumni for a year, with each student participant committing to becoming an entrepreneur within five years of graduation.

Westerbeck’s Eduvantis sorts B-schools’ entrepreneurship programs into five categories: centers for innovation and entrepreneurship; entrepreneurship coursework; structured engagement with successful entrepreneurs; incubator programs and incentives; and business plan competitions.

Harvard Business School’s Rock Center for Entrepreneurship addresses most if not all of that spectrum, and demand for all the center presents has been surging in recent years, says director Meredith McPherron.

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