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Rethinking how we develop undergraduate entrepreneurship

Many undergraduate business schools have specializations, concentrations and extensive programs aimed at the development of the next generation of entrepreneurs. Some in higher education argue that this trend is based on changes in the labor market that provide greater opportunities for the development of new businesses and limit the prospects for advancement in traditional organizations on a large scale. Others suggest that generational differences are a key factor. University students, they say, seek more flexibility, participation and impact in the chosen workplaces. And since there are always some cynics in the group, some believe that universities are taking advantage of the financial benefits of student entrepreneurship, since their ideas lead to profitable businesses. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) reports that two-thirds of adults around the world think entrepreneurship is a good career option.

The irony is that there is a lot of interest and enthusiasm in the development of new entrepreneurs based on the idea that opportunities abound, the failure rate of new start-ups is estimated at 90 percent, and premature scale is number one factor. It is true that the interest in becoming an entrepreneur, while growing, reflects a small portion of the undergraduate population, even among schools widely recognized as leaders in the development of entrepreneurship. For example, an annual survey of alumni conducted by MIT showed that graduates who selected employment in start-up companies after graduation was 15 percent in 2014. While this number is growing, the question arises whether we are losing a tremendous opportunity to assume that our university students are looking to be business owners instead of wanting to have a career within an entrepreneurial work environment. Not all students will find companies, but all must possess the entrepreneurial skills to succeed in a business environment.

In the same study conducted by MIT, it was observed that a significant percentage of university admissions applicants indicates the desire to have a global impact in all stages of the innovation process, from the initial idea to the commercialization. The way in which this contribution takes shape is increasingly diverse in terms of employment opportunities for undergraduate students. Yes, some will want to be new business owners, but a significant and growing number of students will use their talent and education to help drive positive results in these startups, but not from the owner's chair. Some will be investors (especially due to the increase in collective financing for new companies), others will serve on an advisory or government council, and a growing number will want to be employed by these entrepreneurship companies. As growth increases within new businesses, job opportunities for recent graduates also increase. In fact, even during the recent recession, employment growth in entrepreneurial companies increased slightly. Entrepreneurs grow faster, offer employees more opportunities before and are more agile than large bureaucratic companies. These companies offer more risks, but also provide new graduates with a wider range of challenges to test and develop new skills, which may take longer to develop in traditional hierarchical organizations.

While all this sounds very promising, most undergraduate business programs still focus on developing entrepreneurship from the perspective of a business owner. Little attention is paid to students who wish to be part of a business entrepreneurial culture. Programs must be improved to focus on how students can use their knowledge, skills and functional or technical skills. For undergraduate careers in business, how do we increase their ability to manage finance, marketing, accounting, information systems, human resources management, etc., but from the context of a newly created organization where many of our tools, theories and administration? Can the practices not be applied? How can we build the next generation of technical and business professionals that can improve the success rate of new companies? The answer is that we must equip them with specific knowledge for this unique type of business model.

Pitt Business offers a path for students interested in entrepreneurship through its Certification Program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CPIE). The CPIE is suitable for risk-hungry students who want to start their own businesses and students who are attracted to the business culture of start-up companies. We recognize that not all students want to work in a traditional company. Helping young people find what corresponds to them as entrepreneurs gives them the much needed sense of satisfaction while providing the rest of us with the next big company in the world.

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