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Member News: C.C. Eship / NACCE Journal Winter/Spring 2011

What's Your Entrepreneurship Index?

Monday, February 7, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
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By André Taylor, Entrepreneur and Author

We were gathered around a table talking about the spotlight on community colleges in this sputtering economy. I was among a group of business people who had heard all the "noise” about community colleges. Everyone seemed quite informed. There were anecdotes about attention from the White House and banter about the perceived impact on economic vitality, continuing education, workforce development, and, near and dear to my heart, entrepreneurship. Just about everyone had heard about the initiative to assist 10,000 small businesses by a Wall Street financial powerhouse. But missing in these conversations was the detail.

How many businesses are really being created at the community level? Is it really getting done?

It isn't much different when community college officials speak. I hear educators and administrators talk about the progress and success of their entrepreneurship programs in starkly different ways. Some are pleased to get one course off the ground. Others are proud to have launched an incubator. A few have programs providing entrepreneurship education in name, but, in reality, little gets done.

The question: What should the outcome of entrepreneurship courses at community colleges be? Should they create new businesses? Should they merely inform students about the rewards and perils of entrepreneurship? Should they serve to eliminate entrepreneurship as an option for those unsuited for such a career? My vote? Community colleges should be the catalyst for new businesses across the country. They should spark the growth and turnaround of existing businesses. And we should have a national index to track it.

Results Matter

It's too easy to allow the results of entrepreneurship education to go unmeasured. The danger of creating programs that do not produce successful businesses is lethal to the entrepreneurship movement at community colleges. Students, faculty, administrators, presidents, and trustees will ultimately not take such programs seriously. Folks who fund these programs in a big way, like veteran entrepreneurs and corporate donors, will certainly not take these programs seriously. And what will government agencies and even the White House think about entrepreneurship education at community colleges if we cannot prove it works? If an insignificant number of businesses are created, all of our work is simply academic – and not in a flattering sense.

If your college is not measuring the results of your entrepreneurship education efforts beyond grades and tuition, you're missing the mark. Students who enroll in entrepreneurship programs care more about creating money-making enterprises than anything else. You should too. At what level was the business when it began work with your program? What are the specific gains achieved by the business in revenues, profits, customers, and other variables? Is the business now a viable company?

Good Intentions Aren't Enough

Over the years I have tried to assist many colleges in creating successful business education programs. Generally I'm contacted by an earnest faculty member assigned the task of creating an entrepreneurship program. Typically he or she has no resources, and expectations are low.

We meet. I provide my best ideas. I detail my experiences. I give lots of recommendations – ideas that I know will work. The faculty member excitedly listens and we part ways. I feel thrilled I was able to contribute to the school's efforts, only to follow up months later and find little, if any, progress has been made.

There are internal debates about curriculum, credit vs. non-credit, and concerns about an initially low student enrollment. Meanwhile, like any business there are customers to be served –- would-be entrepreneurs, but they don't know how to find them, market to them, and serve them. Since no one is tracking results at these schools, the idea of developing a world-class entrepreneurship program simply fades away.

This missed opportunity exists because there's no pressure to produce results. How different things would be if the educators had to produce a meaningful number of successful businesses at their schools? What if they witnessed other schools having success, launching and growing businesses in concrete numbers?

There are even schools with no entrepreneurship program with significant numbers of students launching businesses. Other factors at the college sometimes make it conducive to serving entrepreneurs. Yet these statistics never make it to the attention of the school's leadership.

I suggest you start right now, creating an annual index at your school, tracking start-ups, expansions, and turnarounds at your college no matter how dismal the initial data may look. I would encourage every community college to create an individual school index to be rolled into a NACCE Entrepreneurship Index. Announcing this index annually would not only provide tangible evidence of the results of our collective work, but it would give community colleges a greater voice in the business of national commerce. There's an old adage: "What gets measured, gets done.”

André Taylor is an entrepreneur, consultant, and author of the book "You Can Still Win!” He's chief executive of Taylor Insight, a New York-based leadership development firm, serving entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies.

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