Creating a Culture of Entrepreneurship

Yesterday I was on a panel for the University of Illinois College of Business.  I am a graduate.  Al Goldstein of Avant Credit and Sean Chou from Fieldglass were also on the panel.  What they had to say was spot on and awesome.  You can see why they are great entrepreneurs.

Alma Mater
Alma Mater (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Traditionally, business schools have concentrated on disciplines like accounting, finance, statistics, marketing and organizational behavior.  In the 1980’s, they started looking at operations.

When I was in school, entrepreneurship meant running a lifestyle business.   Virtually everyone in my class thought about working for a giant company.  It meant money, and security.  Clearly, the world has changed.

I am glad Illinois is trying to figure this out.  I am happy to help them.  At Chicago Booth, the number one major is entrepreneurship.  Stanford has had a very entrepreneurially focused campus for years.  Stanford benefits by being thisclose to Silicon Valley.  Both Chicago and Stanford are private.  They are smaller, with smaller student bodies.  It’s easier to change and establish new cultures at schools like that.

What would you do to try and create a culture of entrepreneurship at a large institution?  Would love to know in the comments.

I had a few suggestions.  I will share them here.

First, eliminate bureaucratic silos.  It’s not about different colleges housing it.  It’s not about which professors get the credit.  It’s about the students. Optimize every single college for entrepreneurship.  Fine Arts have been blown up by tech.  Agriculture will be blown up by tech.  Finance is being blown up by tech.  There really isn’t an industry in the world that is not being blown up by entrepreneurs right now.  Students need to seamlessly go from college to college and be able to drink from the entrepreneurship well.

Second, professors and alums need to open up their rolodexes.  They need to create connections, make introductions, and become mentors.  They need to do it for free.  They can’t be passive about it.  They have to be pro-active.   Entrepreneurship isn’t passive.

Third, become customers of companies.  If not, introduce them to a potential customer. Again, no charge.  Think karma.  Take some risk.  I know of startups that have left Chicago not because they couldn’t get funding-they couldn’t get conservative governments or corporations to become early adopters of their product.  Revenue is the best form of venture capital.

Fourth, don’t try to be exactly like Stanford or Chicago.  Don’t call it Silicon anything.  Be Illinois.  Illinois is a damn fine institution.  It’s unique.  Don’t worry about what other people are doing-be yourself.  There are certainly things I would take and emulate from other programs but it’s important to stay true to yourself.

Fifth, Champaign is great but Illinois won’t be successful unless they integrate with Chicago.  It’s 2.5 hrs away by car.  It would be nice to have a bullet train back and forth but I don’t see that happening.  The Amtrak is always late.  Chicago is the historical anchor for the entire Midwest.  It’s the straw that stirs the drink. Don’t fight it.  Use it.  That goes for places like Madison, Indianapolis, St. Louis and other parts of the Midwest.  By utilizing Chicago, Champaign will benefit and grow.  Build the pipeline.

There are a lot of other things they can do.  I think if there is a will, they will get it done.  There is a ripple in the water.  Once people get a taste of entrepreneurship it’s like a drug that you can’t kick.