I had the pleasure of meeting recently with Professor John Rollins who teaches business and entrepreneurship at The George Washington University (GW) in Washington, DC. John has a long history of successful entrepreneurial ventures and several years ago decided to share his experience by entering academia. Though our particular business experience is markedly different, we have some cultural history in common (like being at Woodstock and seeing the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, etc, at The Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco), as well as strong feelings about the value of knowing how to think like an entrepreneur.
An important component of his program is the development of a business plan competition where teams of students present their business ideas to a distinguished panel of successful entrepreneurs and business leaders in a “real world” presentation format modeled after venture capital presentations. Four separate awards are given to the ‘winning’ teams, totaling $30,000.
The reason this can happen at GW is that healthcare entrepreneur Richard Scott and Annette Scott have generously funded this innovative program for ten years with a donation of $300,000, ensuring a decade of innovation from some of the brightest and most creative minds in Washington, D.C.
Similar programs also take place on many other US College campuses, with Rice University and The Wharton School a U Penn being two notable examples. The size of the competition though is less important though than its raison d’etre.
John and I are in solid agreement that innovation, the backbone of American enterprise, can only occur in environments that embrace risk taking, that learn from mistakes, that share in the rewards of success.
We also favor cross campus entrepreneurialism. This means encouraging all types of students, not just those following a traditional business program, but artists, engineers, philosophy majors and linguists to immerse themselves in an entrepreneurial mindset. There are two reasons for this:
1) No matter what you do for work, you will be in business, dealing with others who are in business, sharing a language and processes for what is ideally your mutual benefit. This will help establish a common ground on which to communicate and will equip you with basic business skills: like finding mentors, making a business plan, identifying funding sources and the all important, Marketing. And many people will just plain find themselves in the situation of needing to creatively come up with a way to make money, like in questionable economies, like now.
2) Perhaps even more important, by mixing up student types you support the sharing of radically different outlooks on the world; and it is this intimate sharing that will identify new problems, that will uncover non-obvious solutions to those problems, that will keep ingenuity on an equal par with all of that business knowledge as a means of starting, running and growing a business.