Bringing Good Ideas to Life – Inside the Academy

When I walked into class today…I could not have been so excited! SO PUMPED!

I sat and watched five different groups give five different presentations about the business models behind their Hybrid Entrepreneur project. But, this is not just a project…these were five legitimate business ideas. Each one, tremendous…innovative…socially driven…potential to generate a profit…created to make change.

But…here is the BUT. Are these students looking at these business ideas as a project for a grade or will they turn them into a viable business idea? What is the barrier that keeps students in the academy from taking a business idea generated in a class, translate into a passion, and produce a viable business?

This takes me back to my fundamental question: can you teach entrepreneurship in a traditional education model. What do I mean? Well, we teach students that we measure success in terms of A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s within a timeframe of the semester. It is my humble opinion that entrepreneurs build businesses beyond the timeframe of a semester and do not measure success within a frame work of grades.

Think for a second, if a student generates a great idea inside a class…how can we change the culture so that they see the value of generating this big idea into a concrete business beyond the end of the semester. Each of these five groups have tremendous business ideas, but the common resistance to capitalize on this idea is the grade they are working to achieve. Also, when the semester ends…out of sight, out of mind.

I was riding around on Saturday with one of my mentors. We were chatting up ideas, business ideas….ideas that can scale into profitable businesses. As we were chatting, we were not focusing on just the future revenue streams but the creative outlet to translate a great business idea into a scalable success. If we had a white board in the SUV, we would have been writing all over the place, connecting the dots. There is a passion behind entrepreneurship that is not measured inside the constraints of semesters and  grades.

Now, back to the classroom.

At the end of the class…I challenged each student. I asked them, what would it take to take their business idea and bring it to fruition. They sat perplexed, thinking about all the other classwork they had to complete. They murmured about time and the lack of resources. So, how do we teach passion and how do we provide the access to resources to convert ideas into reality?

I say we have to take the education of entrepreneurship outside the walls of semesters and grades. We have to provide a shift in culture. Academic institutions have to invest not only in the instruction of entrepreneurship, but also the financial resources that takes good ideas and brings them to life. We see this in the business world. Look at SCLaunch investing dollars in high impact start-ups with the hope they will create jobs in South Carolina. We see new groups like the Upstate Carolina Angel Network connecting good ideas with capital to bring these ideas to life.

So here is my question, how about bring capital into the walls of the academy, investing dollars in students’ ideas for a stake in the business. Many times, I think the barrier here is the ownership of the idea. What do I mean, well institutions are interested in revenue and intellectual property. They might argue these ideas were created inside the walls of the classroom, giving them an immediate ownership of the intellectual property.

So here is my thought, my question: how can we create a culture of entrepreneurship inside the walls of academic institution to truly generate great ideas and bring them to life.  We must change the culture of the academy and create a culture of real entrepreneurship…bringing good ideas to life.

I will leave you with this story. A few months ago, I had the privilege of meeting Doris Buffett. She told her story about her eagerness to give away all her money. She created the Sunshine Lady Foundation to do just that…give it all away.  But, she does not invest in SOB’s (as she so eloquently stated). SOB stands for Symphonies, Orchestras, and Ballets. She invests in human capital. One of her initiatives is the Learning By Giving initiative.

“The goal of the Learning by Giving program is to support and promote the study of philanthropy at the undergraduate level nationwide in order to prepare, empower and inspire young adults to become effective, knowledgeable and skilled philanthropists and leaders in their communities.  The Learning by Giving Program achieves this goal by supporting undergraduate courses in philanthropy with grants of $10,000 for students to distribute  in local nonprofits as an investment in solutions to community problems. The Learning by Giving grants enable undergraduates to experience firsthand the art and science of philanthropy through courses offered in a variety of academic disciplines; and encourage the growth of undergraduates’ philanthropic values and leadership activities over their lifetime.”

WOW! Here is a lady teaching the idea of philanthropy by providing grants to support students in their desire to help local nonprofits as investments in solutions for community problems. She is providing the resources, teaching philanthropy with seed money. Imagine taking this idea and supporting entrepreneurship at the undergraduate level. Seed money supporting the ideas of tomorrow.