February 2020

When you think of entrepreneurship you probably start with Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. But the liberal arts — and Minnesota Private Colleges — should come to mind as well.

Entrepreneurial studies is a growing field in higher education and that’s certainly true for Minnesota Private Colleges. From maker spaces to institutes for entrepreneurial studies to innovation labs, each college has its own take on entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship class at Saint Mary's

At Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, for example, the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies focuses on connecting students with entrepreneurs, offering resources to students on how to start a business and coordinating entrepreneurial related events like pitch competitions.

“I’d argue entrepreneurial studies connects very clearly to the liberal arts,” said Christine Beech, executive director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and assistant professor in the business department at Saint Mary’s. “One of the foundational pieces of entrepreneurial studies is the idea of having a growth mindset and design thinking to address a problem. When we teach entrepreneurship we are really teaching problem solving.”

The Kabara Institute also collaborates with Winona State University and Minnesota State College Southeast on a startup competition call Win Start, Beech said. “It’s a great experience for students to connect with students from other institutions and learn how to develop interdisciplinary teams.”

Saint Mary’s also offers an entrepreneurship major and minor as part of the business department.

At the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, entrepreneurial studies are seen through the lens of the creative mind. “About 10 percent of the U.S. economy’s workforce is self-employed but in the creative sector it’s 35 percent and in many industries its much higher than that,” said Stephen Rueff, professor and department chair of the Arts Entrepreneurship department. “This makes entrepreneurial skills very important for people working in the creative field.”

Entrepreneurial studies at MCAD involves collaboration with community members as clients on outside-of-the-classroom projects. The collaborations have the goal of creating educational outcome that can be implemented in the business and arts world. The projects also teach students about the collaborative process and how to work in interdisciplinary teams. MCAD even hosts an annual event for creative entrepreneurs called PitchFest, which awards $5,000 to undergraduate students.

Artists and creatives often use the skills learned in entrepreneurial studies in their jobs but also in their side gigs. “Many barriers to starting and running a business have been removed in recent years,” Rueff said. “Anyone can make a website and start selling their work and this makes the entrepreneur mindset that much more valuable.”

At Augsburg University the focus is on bringing entrepreneurs on campus and into the classroom to help teach the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. These relationships range from partnerships with the Mayo Clinic, 3M and Medtronic but also includes entrepreneurs from small- and medium-sized companies.

As part of Augsburg University’s new Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion, Augsburg has included an innovation center. The space is designed to combine the sciences and business so students can get a unique interdisciplinary experience, said George Dierberger, MBA director and assistant professor at Augsburg. The classrooms are built on a modular framework that allows for flexibility — supporting multiple different disciplines studying in one room.

“Entrepreneurship exists in all organizations. Most large companies are looking for entrepreneurs and many give employees dedicated time to innovate — it’s the Art Fry Post-It Note story from 3M,” said Dierberger. “Innovation can be hard in larger organization but that makes these entrepreneurial skills that much more valuable.”

How some of our other colleges are supporting entrepreneurs

Carleton College
The Carleton experience offers students interested in entrepreneurship the opportunity to develop a diverse set of skills. Instead of training students for one narrow career path, the Carleton curriculum teaches skills that last a lifetime: critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, effective communication and the flexibility to adapt to dynamic situations. For budding entrepreneurs, courses, off-campus study programs, fellowships, internships, student organizations and alumni networking are all part of the entrepreneurship pathway at Carleton. Students can also put their for-profit and social entrepreneurship ideas to the test in the annual Carleton Start-Up Competition, which pairs groups of students with an alumni mentor and results in a fellowship for the winning team that can be used for summer stipends or expenses to support their start-up venture.

College of Saint Benedict & Saint John’s University
The Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University provides classes, coaching and assistance to entrepreneurs. The center builds relationships among students, faculty, alums and community members to inspire the entrepreneurial spirit. The flagship McNeely program is the Entrepreneur Scholars Program, designed for students of all majors. This undergraduate certificate program includes a three-course sequence for accepted students, national/international travel to learn from entrepreneurs, access to mentors and a capstone entrepreneurial experience (launching their venture and presenting a comprehensive business plan). In addition, students of all majors can…

Concordia College (Moorhead)
Concordia College’s goal is for its graduates is to flourish in radically changing workplaces. The college knows they will address major challenges of this century. To that end, graduates will be resourceful 21st Century learners who integrate knowledge across disciplines in an interdisciplinary, integrative and issued-based approach. To help achieve this goal, Concordia has launched an entrepreneurial mindset certificate and minor to complement any major at the college. The cutting-edge curriculum focuses on empowering students to learn how to think and act like an entrepreneur, recognizing opportunity, solving problems and creating value. Classes include a mixture of business and liberal arts students working together to solve real world problems. The college has hired a Director of the Entrepreneurship Center who will lead entrepreneurial efforts across the campus and community.

Gustavus Adolphus College
Each spring, the Gustavus Adolphus College Department of Economics and Management hosts the Gustie Entrepreneur Cup. Open to students from all majors, the student entrepreneurship competition is a chance for students to showcase their innovative ideas. Students develop their ideas into feasible, scalable business models by engaging with faculty, coaches and mentors. Students then present to a panel of judges for the opportunity to win a share of $20,000 in seed funding. Entrepreneurship at Gustavus blends academic instruction, alumni coaching and challenging competition to help students develop entrepreneurial skills. In addition to the annual Gustie Cup competition, there are smaller "Shark Tank"-style events, opportunities to apply for seed money grants and access to alumni mentors.

Hamline University
Emerging entrepreneurs have options at Hamline. The Innovation Studies course offered through the Physics Department focuses on product development from ideation to finalization. It also covers market analysis, financial planning and intellectual property. The Hamline School of Business offers Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a class that teaches the fundamentals of small business ownership with an emphasis on the development of practical, usable knowledge. Both classes include visits and interactions with successful entrepreneurs and innovators.

Macalester College
Driven by the college’s mission, the entrepreneurial spirit has been a part of Macalester’s culture from the very beginning. Macalester’s Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovation teaches entrepreneurship as a process and mindset by nurturing students’ curiosity, confidence and hope. Along with classes, Macalester offers a wide range of programming from 24-hour hackathons and seed funding to summer accelerator and internship programs and a dedicated center to help students bring ideas to life. In the Idea Lab, a central hub for critical making, students (and faculty and staff) think differently about what they are teaching and learning and from there, innovation takes root. The urban environment of the Twin Cities provides an incredible ecosystem for students to experience entrepreneurship firsthand, while alumni across the world provide entrepreneurial connections. Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Macalester believes in giving every individual the opportunity to harness the market and other systems to make change.

St. Olaf College
Entrepreneurship at St. Olaf seeks to support all students as they brainstorm, collaborate and connect over meaningful ideas. St. Olaf coaches students to use their liberal arts education to come up with innovative solutions to complex problems. The college, in turn, provides the support, guidance and connections that students need to be successful. The St. Olaf Entrepreneurial Scholars program pairs students with summer internships in entrepreneurial ventures. The Ole Cup, an annual student entrepreneurial competition, provides funding and resources to support winning business ideas. And a new makerspace provides all students with access to 3D printing, prototyping and modeling materials. St. Olaf also offers 20 entrepreneurship-related courses and has awarded more than $615,000 in entrepreneurial funding to students and their businesses.

University of St. Thomas
The University of St. Thomas’ Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, ranked one of Princeton Review's top programs for entrepreneurship and #1 in Minnesota, is a one-of-a-kind center for entrepreneurial education and community resources. It offers undergraduate and graduate programs in entrepreneurship and corporate innovation, as well as community resources to support new ventures, family businesses and corporate entrepreneurs. In a world of challenges, the Schulze School cultivates the next generation of entrepreneurial problem solvers and innovators.

By Tom Lancaster