During the 2009-10 academic year, I served as the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin, one of the United States’ top-ranked business schools. I served in the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship, founded by Herb Kelleher, who built Southwest Airlines, one of America’s most respected and successful companies. In this capacity, I met one-on-one with about 200 student entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs, spoke to over 5000 students in their classes, and reviewed or judged about 500 business plans. The students I met with ranged from undergraduate first year students to second year MBA candidates with years of consulting or investment banking experience, from the business school to the engineering school to geology and philosophy majors. It was an exciting and educational experience.
I am also very active in the Austin and global entrepreneurship scene. The main group I support in Austin, bootstrapaustin.org, consists of 1500 of us entrepreneurs.
By linking together the active and experienced entrepreneur community (who are always eager to teach and help) with the students, combined with my own experience in creating four companies and dreaming up hundreds of other ideas, I believe I was able to make a real difference in the lives of the students. And in their chances of success.
Too often the students came into my office thinking entrepreneurship is about business and money, or is about technology, when it is neither. Most startups will not be in technological businesses. Many startups will be in the not for profit realm (social entrepreneurship). Many will be in service industries, from restaurants to consulting firms.
By bringing my broad experience into play, along with the greater network of which I am a part, I was almost always able to take the students to the next level, no matter where they started. I could direct them to the right information source, trade association, industry convention, book, or person to advance their cause. Some were at the early dreaming stage and had no idea where to start, whereas others has worked for years on their idea and were ready to quit their jobs and invest significant time and money.
I found I had to work hard to make sure I was not on a pedestal, that they did not look up to me. Only when we saw each other as equals, as fellow entrepreneurs, could real progress be made. And, 90% of the time, I had to resist the urge to judge the validity of their ideas. Only the entrepreneur can really find their own path, can determine the validity of their idea. Who among us (over 25) would have found twitter to make sense the first time we heard about it? But I found I can teach the students how to learn, how to find the answers for themselves, how to judge their own ideas. Teaching entrepreneurship is, in large part, about teaching people how to be curious, how to learn, how to bring their full mind and energy to the task, how to widen their imagination so as to maximize their potential.