Entrepreneurship in the Corporate World

By William W. Kooser, Associate Dean for Global Outreach, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

 

 

At many business schools today (including Chicago Booth) entrepreneurship is one of the most popular areas of study. At Booth, for example, entrepreneurship is our second most popular concentration and more students seem to be interested in the topic each and every year.

 

In reality, however, very few of these students actually start their own businesses upon graduation. Most end up joining large, existing organizations in typical MBA-type roles. Has their study of entrepreneurship been wasted? Should they have spent their time in more “traditional” areas of study? Not at all – the study of entrepreneurship and the honing of entrepreneurial skills will serve these students well no matter where their careers take them.

 

So what are these skills and how useful are they in a corporate setting? There are several that I think are important elements of success in any position:

  • Market Analysis. Entrepreneurs must be able to assess a market, to determine whether there is demand for the product or service and how best to market and promote it. Successful entrepreneurs have a great feel for the market – both what consumers need today and what they are likely to want in the future (even if they don’t realize it yet).
  • Business Planning. Students in entrepreneurship courses often work extremely hard on developing business plans. They assess the entire business model and the company’s needs – from the organization structure to the pricing strategy to its financial requirements and cash flow. They not only become adept at the planning process but they develop an ability to see the big picture and how all the pieces of the business fit together.
  • Creativity and Design Thinking. As they develop their product ideas with input from the market, entrepreneurs develop skills in creating solutions that address real needs and reflect deep understanding of the end user. Successful entrepreneurs understand the linkage between product design, technology and the user experience.
  • Communications Skills. From the 30 second elevator pitch to a full blown presentation to potential investors, entrepreneurial students quickly learn the benefits of clear communication. They develop the ability to summarize key points, anticipate questions and concerns and present arguments that are compelling and to the point.
  • Networking. Students in any entrepreneurship program know that success is often a function of the expertise you can access and draw upon. In other words, the breadth of the organization’s network of advisors, consultants and mentors that can assist with financing, making industry introductions or evaluating plans and products. The ability to create and foster these networks is critical.
  • Teamwork. Few entrepreneurs work alone. The ability to work with others, to draw on one another’s skills and experiences and to reach consensus on direction and strategy are key elements of most entrepreneurship training.
  • Bias Toward Action. Entrepreneurship students develop a bias toward action. They want to get things done and their training focuses on making things happen. A well thought out marketing plan isn’t enough – when will you begin to make sales? How quickly can you get a prototype into the market for testing? Entrepreneurs understand that perfection is the enemy of the good and can bog down decision making and lead to organizational paralysis.

 

As organizations of all sizes face increasing competition, changing consumer demands, external market shocks and global uncertainty, an entrepreneurial mindset becomes more and more important. All of our organizations need to be nimble, fast moving and focused on market demands and needs. Creativity is at a premium. Networks and teamwork are how work gets done. The skills developed through entrepreneurship programs are increasingly the skills that today’s corporate world needs more than ever.

 

So, as you think about recruiting and developing your next generation of leaders, consider those with training in entrepreneurship. And consider developing entrepreneurial training programs of your own. No matter how big your organization or how long you’ve been in business, tomorrow’s success will depend on cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset throughout the company. The more you can foster and develop an entrepreneurial culture the better you’ll be able to adapt to a changing marketplace, compete effectively and become a leader in your industry.

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