Students at universities and colleges can major, minor, or simply take a class or two in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is greater than starting a business: it’s creativity, innovation, design, leadership, and more. Students continue to gravitate toward the growing field, adding more diversity, challenge, and opportunity every year. What are they learning by studying entrepreneurship? To find out, we talked to faculty, students, and alumni studying entrepreneurship at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, which has a top-ranked entrepreneurship program for undergraduate and graduate students. Below you are some of the most important lessons they said students will learn.
1. How to strike a balance between art and science
Entrepreneurship programs, like the one at the U, are crafted to support all kinds of students.
“Our faculty, comprised of both talented scholars and experienced practitioners, have designed the curriculum to present the most important strategies, frameworks, and information in ways that are actionable for students,” said Brad Williams, an assistant professor and program director in the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy at the University of Utah. “Within our courses, you’re not just dealing with abstract widgets. Students have the opportunity to study best-practice approaches of relevant companies and brands they care about and apply that learning in real-time to entrepreneurial projects they may be working on. We emphasize the entrepreneurial mindset and focus on value creation through creative problem-solving.”
Each course pushes students to utilize their operational knowledge in accounting, finance, and analytics, and their creative sides in marketing, branding, and more.
“Every week in our classes, you set goals for how to figure out a problem,” said Shaykayla Smith, a recent entrepreneurship graduate from the U. “We’re left alone to solve these issues, and we get to be creative, and not just in an artsy way. In entrepreneurship, the creative meets the scientific.”
Jake Peters, a junior in entrepreneurship and director of the Workshops program at Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, started at the U studying marketing. After he took his first intro to entrepreneurship course, he changed his mind.
“I enjoyed marketing — I didn’t switch because I didn’t enjoy it,” Peters said. “But, within entrepreneurship, there is a chance to build and create something that didn’t exist before. I’m excited about that.”
2. How to effectively use your (limited) resources
Entrepreneurs are commonly strapped for what they need the most: money and time.
“Within the entrepreneurship degree, there’s a focus on how to be successful when you have really limited resources, whether that’s money, connections, skills, or anything else,” Peters said. “We learn a lot of decision-making skills, like how to move away from an idea if it’s not going to be as profitable or as effective as you’d hope.”
For Williams, this skill is part of the entrepreneurial mindset.
“I believe that if I’m really driven and passionate about a specific problem, I can create a viable solution,” he said. “We teach to look for resources in other people that can help you along the path. For an entrepreneur, the ability to partner, to learn from customers, and be more observant goes a long way in maximizing your efficiency.”
3. How what you’re learning actually works outside of the classroom
While Smith finished up her degree, she worked for a startup company outside of the U.
“I focused specifically in marketing, but through my degree, I understand the logistics of the startup in general,” she said. “This paired with my specialization in marketing allows me to offer a little of everything. After learning so much about entrepreneurship, when I eventually start my own business, I’ll be more confident knowing that I know enough and that I’m able to continue to learn.”
Williams has seen his students take what he’s taught in class directly to the market. One example is Ethan Cisneros, co-founder of Thirst Drinks in Salt Lake City.
“Ethan has embraced a guerrilla marketing mindset and the principles of effectual thinking,” Williams said. “He texted me once that he had planned a social give-back project — a pop-up fundraising event for the Huntsman Cancer Institute. To generate more awareness and raise more money, he organized a coalition of like-minded food trucks to join the cause in his parking lot at Thirst. The collective proceeds from that night would be donated. All of the participating businesses promoted the event to their social media followers. Ethan also wrote and sent a press release to local media. As a result, hundreds of people showed up, along with two TV stations and other news outlets and blogs to cover his event. I took my kids down to support the cause and was blown away by the turnout. He told me, ‘It worked just like you said it would!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s why we teach this stuff.’”
Alejandro Romero, an adjunct instructor of analytics in the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy has had similar experiences with students in his entrepreneurial analytics course. His class asks students to choose an idea and analyze its potential from the very beginning. Once one is selected to pursue, students spend the entire semester getting it off the ground.
“I had one student who took his idea that he had tested carefully through the class, and I helped him begin Google Analytics and set up his website, and then he went to Kickstarter and raised $180,000 for his business,” Romero said. “He used everything in the class almost lecture by lecture, and now he’s expanded into new areas.”
In Romero’s eyes, this student’s success story could be anyone’s.
“We teach practical information that you can use once they graduate or even leave the class,” he said. “They use the class to work on their personal projects or passions, and spend their time on something that’s going to give them a return on their investment.”
4. How to build and navigate strong teams
“The entrepreneurship major is the most hands-on,” Peters said. “Every class I’ve taken had teams or some kind of collaboration as a main focus. I’ve worked on building out projections for presentations for investors, built online digital marketing campaigns and business models.”
These skills, learning how to facilitate and maintain connections with other people, mitigate conflicts, and bounce ideas off of one another, are applicable in any field or career.
“You learn how to build relationships and stay open-minded,” Smith said. “These groups projects force you to become self-directed if you weren’t already, and push you to think outside of the box. You’re more motivated that way.”
5. How to identify and solve problems
Williams teaches entrepreneurship courses at different levels that explore startup methodology and entrepreneurial marketing.
“We discuss what kinds of problems can be addressed by entrepreneurship, and that can take shape in a million different ways,” he said. “We first ask students, what set of skills, knowledge, and values do they bring to this process? What resources can be leveraged to help explore the problem, figure out a potential solution, and — most importantly — execute it? They have to be willing and courageous enough to go out and kick the tires, and identify whom to ask for help.”
“Before coming to my program, I accepted things as they were, and didn’t put much thought into it,” Peters said.
Nearly three years into his entrepreneurship degree, that’s changed.
“Now, I find myself constantly noticing things throughout the day about what can be improved. That’s the work in process — the whole four-year degree is learning how to execute well. I’m having fun, and I’m still learning all the time.”
Learn more about opportunities to study entrepreneurship at the University of Utah on the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy website.