How Business Schools Are Responding To The Rising Tide of Entrepreneurship

“There are many ways that you can participate in entrepreneurial ventures without being the founder,” Zoller says.

But at Wharton, such a focus would conflict with candidates’ ambition, FitzGerald says. “Wharton folks are certainly A-type personalities. Convincing them that they have an entrepreneurial spirit and they can put that to work in a large company can be a challenge. They’re probably more inclined to go out and start their own company rather than bring that entrepreneurship talent in house.”

Vince Ponzo, director of Columbia's Lang Entrepreneurship Center

Vince Ponzo, director of Columbia’s Lang Entrepreneurship Center

While Wharton students may be inspired by alumni successes, that doesn’t mean Wharton is teaching hero worship, FitzGerald says. “Trying to follow iconoclasts’ models doesn’t really work,” FitzGerald says. “If you’re not true to your own business model and your own mission, you’ll fail really quickly.”


Demographically speaking, it makes sense for B-school grads to take a leap into founding enterprises while they have the chance, FitzGerald says. “It’s actually more economically feasible to do your startup now when you’re 27 as opposed to at 33 when you may have a spouse and one or two kids,” FitzGerald says.

However, Columbia Business School’s Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center uses a slogan to encapsulate a definition of entrepreneurship that includes “intrapreneurship,” the increasingly common description of entrepreneurship within existing companies. The slogan “Think, Start, Grow” is intended to represent the need for an entrepreneurial approach in any organization, regardless of size or time in business.

“The ‘think’ element is really for anybody, I don’t care where you go to work,” says Lang Center director Vince Ponzo. “More and more, people need the ability to think entrepreneurially, just because of the rate of change. The business leaders of tomorrow are going to be the ones who can think one step ahead and think entrepreneurially and stay flexible.”


Columbia, too, is seeing heightened interest in entrepreneurship, adding seats every year to entrepreneurship courses, and holding workshops, panels and other events on topics such as red-flags in the startup process and financing ventures. Two years ago, Columbia opened its Entrepreneurs in Residence program with six residents; this year there are eight. The program was developed to give students educational and networking entry points into specific industries and regions, to complement the school’s Entrepreneurial Sounding Board, a mentoring program involving 30 alumni who mostly advise on tactics and operations, Ponzo says.

HBS operates under the notion that entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship derive from the same mindset, of “breakthrough thinking,” McPherron says. “We’re teaching entrepreneurial management,” McPherron says. Required and elective course content, plus additional entrepreneurship-focused programming, give students the skills necessary for starting businesses as well as innovating in existing enterprises, McPherron says. “Few people can start new big things, but lots of people can employ that discipline to make real change in all areas of management,” McPherron says.

Eduvantis founder Tim Westerbeck

Eduvantis founder Tim Westerbeck

Westerbeck believes differences between stated goals on entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship in MBA programs can be chalked up to the need to address prospective students’ desire for success, no matter whether they want to start companies or work in established businesses – either path requiring entrepreneurial skills in today’s economy.


“Every school knows that entrepreneurship as a concept is in high reported demand by incoming student populations. They also know that the vast majority of their students will not ultimately become successful entrepreneurs and will eventually go to work within an organization established by someone else,” Westerbeck says.

“(Schools) don’t want to place all of their eggs in one basket, so they are naturally going to hedge their bets and suggest that intrapreneurship is also a critical aspect of today’s business success – the source of corporate growth and innovation – and involves many of the same skill sets, competencies and mindsets involved in successful entrepreneurship.

“In a sense, it is preparing would-be entrepreneurs with the skills they will also need to be engines of growth and high-value employees within established organizations, which can be equally rewarding, ultimately, and perhaps less painful then the entrepreneurial life.”


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