Programs, Professors Cultivate Next-Generation Entrepreneurs

 
A thread of entrepreneurship weaves through the history of SMU from the beginning. In asking “What is our duty to all the coming generations of Texans until the end of time? … ,” members of the Commission of Education, Methodist Episcopal Church, South of Texas demonstrated game-changing foresight in 1911. They spotted an opportunity in a growing city and joined forces with like-minded civic leaders to bring the University to life.

Jerry White, director of the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship in the Cox School of Business

Fast forward six decades: When the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship opened in August 1970, “we could identify only a handful of universities that even taught a course in entrepreneurship,” says Jerry White, director of the institute in the Cox School of Business. “Today, if you don’t have a substantial entrepreneurship education program, then you won’t have a business school.”

The institute was established with the support of W.W. Caruth Jr., son of W.W. Caruth Sr., who donated land to SMU in 1911. “W.W. Caruth Jr. felt that universities were training students to be employees of large organizations, and that’s not what he chose to be,” White says. “He was ahead of the curve in recognizing that business schools needed to address entrepreneurship education.”

While White says there’s no hard and fast definition of “entrepreneurship,” he boils it down to “building a business where none existed before and pursuing the opportunity without regard to resources you currently control.”

“Innovation is not entrepreneurship,” he adds. “Entrepreneurs take innovation and do something with it.”

Do You Fit The Profile?

Growing up in Carthage, Miss., Jerry White says he was “one of those kids who always had a business.” Among his most successful ventures was a snow cone stand. Within weeks of opening, his operation was doing such brisk business that his adult-run competition folded.

White seemed to know instinctively that by offering a superior product at the right price, he would thrive in the marketplace. So, are some people born entrepreneurs? While an actual gene linked to entrepreneurship has not been identified, people who bring their ideas to life do seem to share some attitudinal DNA, according to White.
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The Caruth Institute offers four undergraduate and 20 graduate courses – from venture financing to financial transactions law – to provide students with a solid foundation for launching and managing successful ventures. Through the institute students can pursue a Master of Science in Entrepreneurship, as well as a noncredit Starting A Business certificate.

Also within Cox, the Executive M.B.A. program was ranked by Financial Times as No. 6 in the world for entrepreneurship last fall.

 Andy Nguyen ’11 says the Master of Entrepreneurship program provided him with a solid handle on the mechanics of business ownership. Nguyen owns WSI Search, a North Dallas marketing firm that specializes in web development and Internet marketing strategies, and calls himself a “serial entrepreneur with a laundry list of ideas.” The nine-year Marine veteran, who has served in Afghanistan and Asia, is now mapping out “a nonprofit organization to help veterans transition into entrepreneurship.”

“The MSE program has given me the tools and resources to build, run and exit a business in the most effective and efficient manner,” says Nguyen.

‘Be Ready To Jump’

Engineer Bobby B. Lyle ’67 proves that inventive go-getters populate all disciplines. He served as a professor and administrator at the University before making his mark in the petroleum and natural gas industry. Lyle, an SMU trustee for more than 20 years, provided gifts that established the Bobby B. Lyle Chair in Entrepreneurship in Cox – held by Professor Maria Minniti – and laid the foundation for leadership and entrepreneurship education in the Lyle School of Engineering, which was named for him in 2008.

The school offers a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering with an Engineering Management and Entrepreneurship Specialization. In addition courses such as “Technical Entrepreneurship” encapsulate the challenges of technology start-ups through “on-the-job learning,” says Professor Stephen A. Szygenda.

Brian Tannous (left) and Amir Ghadiry, creators of the SeekDroid smartphone app

Divided into company teams, students have to decide on a hypothetical venture and develop a five-year strategy. As the semester unfolds, Szygenda bombards the groups “with different situations, like an unanticipated natural disaster. They have to come up with solutions and document how they’ve redirected the company to successfully deal
with the issue.”

The course’s emphasis on team dynamics and innovative problem-solving complements initiatives of the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, which was funded by a
gift from Linda ’65 and Mitch Hart and opened in October 2010.

In the lightning-fast technology sector, “there’s a very small window for success, so when it opens, you have to be ready to jump,” Szygenda says.

New engineering graduates Amir Ghadiry ’11 and Brian Tannous ’11 took a leap into the marketplace with SeekDroid, an application (“app”) for smartphones that run the Android mobile operating system. The multifunction app serves as a locator – through a secure website, a user can pinpoint the device’s location – as well as a security system.

“If your phone is stolen, you can lock and wipe it [erase data] remotely,” Ghadiry explains.

After five months on the market, the application has been downloaded more than 16,000 times from SeekDroid.com at a price of 99 cents per download.

They began tinkering with apps in an electrical engineering special topics course taught by Joseph Camp, the J. Lindsay Embrey Trustee Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering. “For students with an entrepreneurial flair, the mobile phone applications market is an emerging avenue,” Camp says.

It’s Not Business As Usual

Some new SMU programs borrow from the B-school toolkit for courses tailored to a challenging climate.

In June the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development will launch a Master’s program with a specialization in urban school leadership. The 45-hour program was developed by the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in concert with the school’s new Education Entrepreneur Center (EEC).

The EEC coalesces efforts of the Simmons School and the Teaching Trust, a nonprofit organization established by entrepreneurs Rosemary Perlmeter, founder of Uplift Education charter schools, and Ellen Wood, a financial and social investment consultant, to offer high-quality professional preparation for emerging school leaders as well as development opportunities for seasoned principals.

Lee Alvoid, clinical associate professor and department chair, believes some of the business approaches used to turn around ailing companies can be modified and applied to low-performing urban schools.

“Entrepreneurial educators can find and deploy resources in a creative and nontraditional manner,” she explains. “They are able to create an organizational culture focused on the students and have the ability to develop policies that support change that’s important in urban schools with low performance.”

Zannie Voss, chair of Meadows' Division of Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship

Much like the Simmons program aims to prepare school leaders to achieve under difficult conditions, a new Meadows School of the Arts initiative merges a business perspective with classical training as an intellectual gyroscope for a shifting arts landscape.

“Our students are incredibly proficient and expert with their talent as performers and artists. We don’t want them to wait for the phone to ring; we want them to take a proactive role in sculpting their post-SMU futures now,” says Zannie Voss, chair of the Division of Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship in Meadows and professor with a dual appointment in Meadows and Cox.

Beginning in the fall, Meadows will offer an undergraduate minor in arts entrepreneurship open to students from any major on campus who want to develop their ideas for new arts – or entertainment-related ventures. The six-course minor focuses on such skills as arts budgeting and financial management, attracting capital (donors, investors and public funds) and generating an arts venture plan.

As they home in on how to monetize their ideas, students may redefine success in terms of personal fulfillment rather than fame. And even those who have their sights set on stardom need to be able to interpret a financial statement.

“The reality is that it’s in our students’ best interests to not only create their own art and films but also to understand how to sustain themselves,” Voss says. “This initiative emphasizes Meadows’ encouragement of students to ‘start a movement.’”

Patricia Ward

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