Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Business Professors as the Ultimate Entrepreneurs

From investors to educators and the media there is a storm of attention being paid to entrepreneurship  with initiatives ranging from the much-publicized Venture for America, founded by a fellow Brown University alum, Andrew Yang,  to newly formed centers, even here at the Isenberg School of Management, which is headed by my colleague, Professor James Theroux (he is the brother of the award-winning travel writer, Paul Theroux). There are also well-established entrepreneurship programs, typically, at business schools.

The Center for Entrepreneurship is only of several centers at the Isenberg School. 

For example, back in 2001, I founded and continue to direct  the Virtual Center for Supernetworks.
So what is entrepreneurship?

Consider, as pointed out by Brett Nelson in Forbes, the following two definitions of “entrepreneur”: the first one from in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, and the other from Dictionary.com:
  • Merriam-Webster: “one who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”
  • Dictionary.com: “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”

We both agree that the latter definition, which considers any enterprise ... as being the relevant one today.

To survive and thrive in academia, including business schools, one must be entrepreneurial. One can't just sit back and leave the status quo, since the environment in both business and academia is much too dynamic, evolving, and changing. Entrepreneurship goes hand in hand with innovation.

Without entrepreneurship and innovation on the part of faculty:

  • No new courses will be offered.
  • No new programs and majors started.
  • No new partnerships, including global ones, initiated.
  • No frontier research conducted.
  • No centers established nor grants obtained.
  • An academic institution will fail to evolve and thrive.

Business professors, in particular, are great at seeking out new opportunities -- it is Darwinian -- if you don't take risks and initiate, you rot -- and the students and institutions suffer.

We are also quite good (thanks to the professors that we have had and, for some of us, actual industrial experience) in allocating our scarce resources in as optimal of a fashion as possible in order to get the highest return with some risk involved, of course. I think that this is part of our DNA.

If you don't have courage and take risks, nothing valuable or interesting happens -- Nothing ventured -- nothing gained.

Of course, companies have also been formed by business school profs and we in operations research and the manageement sciences can name a few easily off the tops of our heads.

As importantly, the students that we have educated and inspired go on to organize and manage their enterprises through their initiatives!  What is more entrepreneurial than an excellent doctoral dissertation?!