Researchers within academia and in the field see the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation not only for the economy but for the future of capitalism as well. Business schools--and the current generation of students occupying them--are at the forefront of this innovation and change.

“Entrepreneurship is updating capitalism,” says Ted Zoller, director of the Entrepreneurship Center at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “And the truth of the matter is, we’re going through a fundamental restructuring of our economy. The models that were set up after World War II, which were much more distributed models, are breaking down. We’re now seeing most innovation happening in small enterprises. We’re hearing from corporate partners that they’re valuing adaptable leaders over any other skill set--therefore, entrepreneurship is a core element of MBA education.”

Hank Webber at Cortex is watching it play out right in front of his eyes. “Whether Cortex turns out to be very good or transformative for St. Louis depends on our ability to continue to grow at something like the pace we’ve been growing at,” he says. “And it depends, I think, over the long run, on a few of these companies that we’ve incubated turning out to be a huge deal.

“If you tell the story of Silicon Valley, there’s a Stanford story. And there’s a Stanford research park story. But without HP, it’s a different story. There’s no Seattle story without Microsoft. It’s early and we have many companies that are doing very well, but we haven’t had anybody explode yet.”

Look to the 20- and 30-somethings for that potential unicorn, he says. “Today we’re in an era where there’s much greater distrust in all institutions and all sort of institutional efforts. My students want to start things. Lots of kids whose parents would’ve gone to law school now start companies. It’s a very entrepreneurial era. If you don’t have a vibrant entrepreneurial program, you don’t get lots of really good students these days. It’s how they express themselves.”