The study of entrepreneurship has come a long way since early adopters like Indiana University, Harvard, Babson College, and the University of Southern California began e-ship programs in the late '70s and early '80s. Today, more than 600 programs nationwide offer majors in entrepreneurship, says Prof. Donald F. Kuratko of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University – Bloomington. An additional 400 offer concentrations in entrepreneurship, and at least one e-ship course is being taught at more than 1,600 universities worldwide. And university membership in the Global Center for Entrepreneurship Centers has grown four-fold in the last seven years.
But not all e-ship programs are created equal – and sorting the innovators from the copy-cats is no simple feat. You can thank us later; we at Inc.com did your homework for you. Below, experts in the field weigh in on what matters most when choosing an e-ship program. Here are the questions they say you should be asking:
Q. Is the school located near an entrepreneurial hotbed like Silicon Valley?
"If you had a chance to go to a prestigious school that's located in the Midwest versus a second-tier school located near Silicon Valley or just outside Boston, I'd hands down recommend the school situated right in the middle of the tech market, the place where venture capital deals happen all the time," says Prof. David Newton. (Newton is admittedly biased; he's a professor of entrepreneurial finance at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.)
Q. How much hands-on experience is incorporated into the curriculum?
The e-ship curriculum at many schools is shifting from the theoretical to the practical. At Miami University's Farmer School of Business, local business owners become the students' clients, and grades are awarded, in part, based on the efficacy of a student's marketing strategy or business plan. "We believe in experiential learning; we don't just have students learning in the classroom," says Prof. Brett Smith, founder and head of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at the Farmer School of Business.
Q. Does the school offer social entrepreneurship courses?
Social entrepreneurship is on the rise at the best b-schools. "Students want to not only create economic value, but also social value by brainstorming innovative solutions to persistent social problems," says Smith. Farmer Business School students run a franchise-like social venture, selling customizable T-shirts "grown and sewn" in Africa as part of edun Live on Campus, in partnership with Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson. Syracuse's South Side Innovation Center, an incubator for all ventures related to inner-city entrepreneurship, has students assisting local restaurateurs and other business owners.
Q. Can I complete a joint degree, or take entrepreneurial courses while studying chemistry or another seemingly unrelated discipline?
E-ship programs are becoming much more integrated. "The biggest trend is the tech-transfer model, in which entrepreneurship is studied across the curriculum," says Newton. MIT's Sloan School of Management and USC's Marshall Business School are just two examples of graduate students and faculty from the engineering and medical schools teaming up with MBA students to take cool ideas from the lab and learn how to commercialize them. And at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the Entrepreneurial Initiative in the Arts offers seminars meant to educate the next generation of artists to ensure that they need not starve.
Q. Does the e-ship program give students direct access to potential investors?
"Choose a school that gives active opportunities for students to meet investors," advises Newton. He directs the annual SEED National Collegiate Venture Forum, which invites a select group of students from campuses across the country to pitch their companies to 40 or so venture capitalists. Instead of coming home with a trophy and $2,000 in seed money, students have the opportunity to win big by securing millions of dollars in capital.
Q. What's the school's track record regarding the number of students who go on to launch their own businesses upon graduation?
If the admission director hems and haws, that's probably not a good sign. But what's a good percentage to aim for? Kuratko estimates that "up to 20 percent of those majoring in entrepreneurship actually implement a business immediately after graduation."