When you enter college, you do so with the hope of learning a few things that will lead to a fabulous career. Looking back, the courses that helped us the most may not have been the ones we'd thought would be important when we were in school. I asked 10 small business leaders and entrepreneurs what college course helped them most over the years. Here are their responses:
John Harthorne, Founder and CEO of MassChallenge: Bowdoin College: My "Post-War German Literature" class about learning to tell a story. Learning to tell a story is an essential part of being an entrepreneur. Through our analysis of major German Literature works, we learned about some of humanity's most severe challenges and international conflicts, and also about the importance of perseverance and hope. Everything that I learned in this class is a metaphor for entrepreneurship.
Darrin Lythgoe, founder The Next Generation: Brigham Young University: I'd say the class that helped me the most was actually my computer ethics class. Why? Every other computer science topic I ever studied in college is now obsolete, but the philosophies I learned in the ethics class have stayed with me. The professor made us read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", which I did not sell back at the end of the semester! In fact, I have re-read it more than a dozen times now.
Barbara Green, owner at BKG Money Management: San Diego State: I'd have to say undergraduate accounting. I only took it because all economics majors had to take one semester of accounting but it helped me understand how my mind worked and that I liked things where you have to make all the pieces fit together and balance. Everything since then in my life has involved putting the pieces together analytically, and I probably never would have taken graduate classes in accounting (and the CPA exam) if I hadn't been forced to take that class.
Kate Blanchard, Chief Operating Officer: ORIG3N: The Ohio State University: My whole life until college, I wanted to travel and study abroad--seeking adventures and people unlike myself. My junior year, I got that chance by taking an Agricultural Education class in the Dominican Republic. The course exposed me to a different economic area of the world I knew nothing about. Ultimately, the class taught me that I can handle just about any situation--whether I'm at home, work, or lost in a city where I can barely speak the language. There is always a solution--especially if you plan ahead to eliminate known problems in order to create space for the unexpected issues that arise.
Stephanie Meldrum, MA, LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor in Private Practice Colorado Christian University. While I am very grateful for all of the clinical coursework...the course that helped me most in the area of becoming a small business owner was called Professional Development. From exploring the ethical issues involved in seeking and accepting referrals, the best ways to ensure client confidentiality, or the importance of meeting documentation requirements in a way that is clinically meaningful, the class helped to prepare me for the intricacies of being both a helping professional and a business owner.
Matthew Mausner, Founder and CEO of Woxxer: Yale University. My 'best' college class might have been my worst-- my "bible as literature" class was so bad that it led me eventually to high tech entrepreneurship, with an innovation that's thousands of years old! The class was so dry that it sucked all the fun and life out of [the bible]. It struck me that the methodology for understanding it was inadequate, and soon I was in Israel learning Talmud and discovering it was not only a better methodology but also a hyperlinked, multi-directional database for handling many perspectives and controversy-- which led me to try applying something like it to modern problems with modern technology, and Lo and Behold, a world-changing cure to TMI was born!
Hunter Gaylor, Co-Founder and Connector at Howler: Harvard University: It's a toss-up between two, My "Law and Psychology" and "Essentials of Management" courses. They helped me prepare for my career, not so much because of the content (although that it was extremity insightful), but because the professors were pedants for clear writing and logical problem solving. Both gave inspiring feedback and lots of it, which helped me learn how to make thoughtful decision making in connection with communications, and analyzing the risks and rewards of different types of management decision making. I worked harder and more diligent in those classes than any other.
Alvin Rohrs, CEO: Enactus: Southwest Baptist University: I entered college as a pre-law major wanting to lock up every business person I could because my family had recently been cheated by some very unethical business people. My advisor said I might need a paying job if I couldn't get into law school and I should try a business class. I took "Introduction to Business 101." My Professor, Bill Williams, was a serial entrepreneur who had built and sold a lot of companies. He regaled us with stories of his adventures and I realized, through him, that business could be fun; that businesses, ran ethically, do make the world a better place; and that entrepreneurial action can improve lives.
Sarah Salbu, Senior Account Executive at SHIFT Communications: Miami University of Ohio. My best college course actually wasn't a course, it was a professional organization called Pi Sigma Epsilon Marketing and Sales Fraternity. I joined my school's chapter and was able to take what I was learning as a communications and marketing major and apply it to the organization by helping with the PR activity during regional and national conferences. In addition, I learned the power and importance of building trust and meaningful relationships with others as a strong network can help move the needle in personal professional growth and advancing the organizations I am a part of.