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General Session Notes: Hacking the Community College Business Model

Posted By Jeanne Yocum, Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hear the recording of this panel discussion here.

This very distinguished panel included:

Mike Hennessy, Coleman Foundation

Saras Sarasvathy, University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business

Joe Abraham, author and founder of BOSI Global


Here are snippets of their very thought-provoking comments:

Mike Hennessy: I think community colleges need to stick a bigger stake in the ground so entrepreneurship is really seen  as economic development; and we need to be strong advocates to make sure self-employment is really seen as being in the forefront of economic development. In the end somebody has to sell something and somebody has to buy something and if we don’t do that, we’re talking about the same things over and over again.


From day 1 we also need to be thinking about where entrepreneurship fits. That process needs to start early for those who don’t realize yet who they are and also for those who come from entrepreneurial families. What are the kinds of experiences that students should engage in during their time at school?


Entrepreneurs need to be actively engaged in the content of the programs you do. There just cannot be too many entrepreneurs on campus.


There is a change coming; we can either be part of it or we can get run over by it. There is a sense of impatience when you talk to young entrepreneurs about the types of experiences they want to have in school. Some of the traditional sources are not going to be as meaningful unless they keep up. We have incubators and accelerators in Chicago that I never thought I’d live to see.


Community colleges see themselves as part of economic development. I don’t see that at four-year schools or in high schools. We need to say to them that they can’t sit on the sidelines any more. There is an incubator going into a high school in Chicago. The students are demanding this kind of activity; we just need to make sure the parents and other stakeholders also demand this kind of activity.


Saras Sarasvathy: There are a lot of things we can do to prepare students to become job creators as well as seeking jobs. It should also be in the menu of options that are available to students that they should think about the possibility of starting a business.


When I talk about the entrepreneurial method, we don’t mean a method to become an entrepreneur or start a venture. I actually mean something like the scientific method – a method for moving through history and creating progress. Entrepreneurship is one way to do this.


Through history as human beings we tend to listen to people with power and money. But the entire movement of progress has been to bring the bottom up or move the good life downward. The things that happened in the 17th and 18th centuries - like the bill of rights - this was all about bringing the good life down to ordinary folks like you and me.


It’s normal for us to think what utopia looks like. But in the process we are ignoring another toolbox that is available to us. This is people who see a little problem and think "There is something I can do about it.” These are people who are able to live in the mud of today and they’re able to make something a little better. They figure outsomething that is doable and worth doing and the beauty of it is that they actually do it.


You can change the world without risking everything. Figure out what you are willing to lose until you figure out bigger paths to follow.


What would a bunch of crazy people – people with different world views – how do you get people to come into doing the work with you? This is the crazy quilt principle. When you actually move something, people are willing to get on the train with you even if it’s only moving at five miles an hour.


We can live in a changing world without knowing how to predict the future. Entrepreneurs have figured out this world view of how do we make good decisions without trying to predict the uncertain.


Joe Abraham: I don’t envy you trying to bring entrepreneurship into a community college; it’s sort of the equivalent of trying to bring a dance club into a convent. If you are really going to make entrepreneurship work in and through your campus, here are some tips:


Tip 1: Go nonacademic. Everything you teach your students, every course you offer, just go as nonacademic as you can. Go as practitioner-based as you can. Because most academic study of entrepreneurship is 10 years behind.


Are all entrepreneurs the same? No, but today what you see in most places where entrepreneurship is being taught, they assume all entrepreneurs are all the same.


Tip 2: Go where the entrepreneurs are going.  When people come ot your college and say they have a great e-ship program that you should use, ask them how many entrepreneurs are using that exact methodology in their business and growing their businesses with it. Entrepreneurs know what works; they will flock to it.


The real opportunity is to team up with entrepreneurs when they’re in their second and third stage businesses. That’s where the game changing impact is.

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