Tim Keane recalls the reaction when, in the late 1980s, he left his job as marketing manager for GE Healthcare to start a company of his own.
“My parents thought I had been fired,” joked Keane, who launched RTMS Inc., a software company that became one of the first web analytics companies to serve retailers. The company was sold in 2000 and is now part of Fidelity Financial.
Keane has followed an entrepreneurial path ever since. It has included his continuing role as manager of the 90-member Golden Angels Network and a 13-year stint as Entrepreneur in Residence at Marquette University, where he taught a master’s level course in entrepreneurship.
He’s now joined with six other entrepreneurs to create The Entrepreneurial Journey, a 200-hour, four-month short course sponsored by Carroll University. The first class of 24 students — now being recruited through an application process that will remain open for a few more weeks — will begin study in September and earn a 15-credit graduate certificate from Carroll.
Read this commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.
It’s the latest evidence that “entrepreneur” is no longer a French word translating roughly into “unemployed,” at least so far as Wisconsin colleges and universities are concerned.
Not so long ago, entrepreneur education programs such as the one launched at Marquette by Keane or by Jim Weinert and Bob Pricer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison were academic outliers. Many colleges and universities treated entrepreneurship as a highly optional line of study, not an activity that could serve students from all disciplines — from the sciences and the arts — throughout their careers.
Today, teaching entrepreneurship and encouraging students and faculty alike to consider starting their own businesses is becoming widespread. Here are a few examples:
■The Carroll University certificate program is a deliberately intense dive into the principles of lean start-ups, growth strategies, financing and sales, with a philosophical twist embodied in a course called “Leadership and the Life of Meaning.”
■The entrepreneurship major at UW-Whitewater is part of the College of Business and Economics, and has become a platform for young start-ups, a campus business plan contest and ties into a larger innovation center.
■Neenah-based Alta Resources recently pledged financial support for the UW-Oshkosh Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Student-entrepreneurs involved in the program are given resources ranging from desk space and mentorship to one-on-one support and guidance from College of Business faculty and staff, as well as local and regional business executives.
■The UW System and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. recently launched a $2 million seed fund, to be run through the UW Extension, to help commercialize ideas from campuses statewide. It’s a fund that reflects growing interest in entrepreneurialism on virtually every campus.
Student interest in start-ups has never been stronger than it is today on the UW-Madison campus, where the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship in the School of Business was once a relatively lonely outpost.
This week’s G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition featured 35 student business plans in advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology and life sciences and energy. It’s the largest of seven contests on campus.
UW-Madison boasts eight different student organizations or speaker series dedicated to entrepreneurship, five degree programs and three noncredit programs, several mentorship centers and at least one dormitory floor where all of the residents are self-identified entrepreneurs.
In most colleges, students are learning they can’t rely solely on their campus career centers to help them find jobs. They must often take matters into their own hands and go into the job hunt with an entrepreneurial mind-set, even if they wind up working for a big company.
Through entrepreneurship courses, experience or networking, students can learn how businesses operate and what kind of skills are required for success.
In Wisconsin, where the rate of company start-ups remain among the nation’s lowest, entrepreneur education offers hope that Generation Z will build on the record of Gen Y when it comes to launching companies. Indeed, students who are in high school and college today have access to resources and programs that those only a decade behind them did not.
Being an entrepreneur on campus these days doesn’t mean you haven’t declared a real major. It means preparing for a lifetime of interdisciplinary work that will require far more than deep mastery of any single subject.