Center to focus on entrepreneurial education as academic discipline

March 19, 2004

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Developing entrepreneurial education as an academic discipline is the goal of a center being established by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Development is in its initial stages following the award of a $4.5 million grant in December from the E. Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, Mo. The center is designed to serve as a national model to provide practical skills for students and faculty and aid in the economic development of Illinois and elsewhere.

Ironically in the land of Horatio Alger, entrepreneurship has been little studied or taught by higher education, said Paul J. Magelli, interim executive director of the academy.

Of 3,100 two- and four-year colleges and universities, fewer than 16 offer degree programs in entrepreneurship for non-business graduate students. A survey conducted for the Kauffman Foundation found that only 37 doctoral students nationwide are enrolled in entrepreneurship programs.

Illinois hopes to put its stamp on the new field through a multi-pronged effort, according to Avijit Ghosh, dean of the College of Business. While the business college will coordinate the program, the academy is aimed at "building entrepreneurial capacity and culture" across all departments and disciplines on campus.

Among the academy's objectives: As one of the original land-grant institutions, Illinois has long sought to bring basic research into the wider realm of commercial development. The process of transferring new research and knowledge has accelerated since 2000 at the behest of the Illinois Legislature, which has invested state funds in advanced facilities on campus to improve the state's business competitiveness and opportunities for students.

"Research Park on the south campus, IllinoisVENTURES and other activities are the bricks and mortar for entrepreneurship on this campus," Magelli said. "The academy will support these activities with the development of critical instructional skills that will help move ideas toward viable business enterprises."

Some of the broad questions to be answered by scholars at the academy, he said, will include: "What is the elusive set of characteristics that best seem to describe the potential entrepreneur? How do we study and teach the development of critical knowledge and skills in entrepreneurship?"

Ghosh's interest in entrepreneurship has been longstanding. Before he became dean of the business college in 2001, he had served, among other capacities, as the director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business.

"There are a lot of similarities between entrepreneurs and university research professors," he said. "Both are very passionate about their ideas, for instance. The business schools of today have to reach out to other parts of the university and not exist in isolation. That is the way they will have a real impact."

Ghosh envisions interdisciplinary courses taught by faculty in different colleges. Emphasis would be placed on how to let students learn from each other and how to teach students basic business practices.

"The business world is changing, and so is our university program," he said. "We must help students focus on functional skills."

Several programs have been established at Illinois to promote the interdisciplinary approach. For example, the Technology and Management Program brings engineering and business undergraduates together to learn about each other's discipline and tackle projects for commercial sponsors. The program leads to a minor degree in technology and management.

To support existing classwork and encourage innovation in teaching, the academy will establish a fund to seed promising programs in academic units identified as priorities, including those with large numbers of women and ethnic or racial minorities and disciplines where students need more career alternatives.

Illinois will also collaborate with Howard University and the University of Texas at El Paso to develop graduate programs in entrepreneurship at these institutions. A major focus will be to offer practical training to minority students. At the same time, the academy plans to work with the University Extension Program to help Illinois farmers begin start-ups and new agribusiness opportunities.

The Kauffman Foundation has awarded $25 million in grants to eight universities that pledged to make entrepreneurship education available on their campuses. The Illinois grant was the largest award.

"We are looking to Illinois to be a national leader in making the entrepreneurial spirit part of the fabric of higher education," said foundation spokesman Anthony Mendes.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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