The University of Missouri – St. Louis’ entrepreneurship is common, whether students are participating in the Entrepreneur Quest Student Accelerator Pitch competition or interning at start-up companies that have their place in the market through the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator establish.
These programs are sponsored by UMSL Accelerate – another example of the university’s commitment to promoting entrepreneurship. In the past, however, it was up to UMSL students to decide how much they wanted to learn about starting their own business.
Beginning in the next school year, all new freshmen and transfer students who are completing a bachelor’s degree in business administration or a bachelor’s degree in accounting must take a new three-hour course in entrepreneurship. In the ENT 3100: Applications of Entrepreneurship class, students learn how to start and scale a new business by focusing on a single current business opportunity.
Perry Drake, co-chair and assistant professor of marketing; Michael Elliott, assistant dean of the College of Business Administration; and Dan Lauer, director of UMSL Accelerate, led efforts to change coursework requirements.
“We do it because that entrepreneurship and drive is so important in the community,” said Drake.
The group began approving course requirements about six months ago, but Elliott found that a greater effort had been made to invest in entrepreneurship training about four years ago.
During this time, an interdisciplinary entrepreneur certificate was sought. It was launched in 2017 along with several courses that focus on areas such as the arts and nonprofits. Drake, Elliott, and Lauer built on this positive dynamic.
“A few years later, the faculty agreed that entrepreneurship should be a priority,” said Elliott. “This is a big deal because it means that in theory it equates to marketing, finance, and the other important functional areas. By then, however, we had not asked all of our business students to take at least one course.
“We showed that there can be a lot of interdisciplinary collaboration between finance and entrepreneurship, supply chain and entrepreneurship, and we learned from the rest of the faculty that entrepreneurship is more than just that niche specialty.”
Finally, the discipline was combined with Marketing to form the Marketing and Entrepreneurship Department. Until 2020 it wasn’t too difficult to get others to accept the new requirement. Drake and Elliott are excited about the change and believe that an entrepreneurial mindset is important for students regardless of their discipline.
“Not everyone knows the importance of every class out there and why they have to take certain classes,” said Drake. “We therefore felt it was important to impart these skills to every BSBA student.”
The new course will be piloted this semester and taught by the newly hired Assistant Teaching Professor Michael Kehoe. The focus is on the application of entrepreneurship processes such as design thinking, brainstorming, market experiments, revenue modeling and much more. For this semester and the next, the students will work on developing a “better face mask for the age of COVID-19 and beyond”.
According to Elliott, discovery processes such as generating new ideas, conducting consumer research and focus groups, and prototyping products are particularly important for students.
“There are so many options now, but it is important that our students understand how to test their ideas,” he said. “How to get this initial funding, communicate with various investors, and understand the basics to get started.”
Drake added that these lessons are important in the St. Louis business world.
“Understanding this whole entrepreneurial mindset – how to start a business – is doubly important in the St. Louis area because we are such a large startup community,” he said. “Because so many of our students stay here, you want to make sure they are well equipped to work in this environment.”
Even if the students do not start their own company, the concepts will also be valuable in the corporate world. The class offers the students building blocks for working in cross-departmental teams and for innovations in larger companies. It also provides a useful link to curriculum activities such as the EQ Student Accelerator and Internships.
Drake and Elliott are confident that having an entrepreneurial foundation will help students use their skills for brilliant careers – regardless of the line of business they’re studying.
“I think students have a bigger advantage today than they did 10 years ago because technology can make a difference for them,” said Drake. “There are certain students who understand how to use this technology to build something, but there are still many students who don’t understand the power of some of these things. That’s what this class will help you with. “
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