Published on 2016/03/10

Entrepreneurs for Hire: Standing Out In and Changing The Competitive Business School Marketplace

The EvoLLLution | Entrepreneurs for Hire: Standing Out In and Changing The Competitive Business School Marketplace
Institutions can stand out on programming alone, but it’s better if that unique programming is matched by unique credentials and is part of a wider, institution-level strategy to dominate a niche.

Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”

– Thomas Edison

If you have been to any Ted Talks, keynote addresses, webinars, conferences, or book signings about the future of higher education (or any other industry), you have undoubtedly heard the message: Innovation is the single most important criteria for survival in a constantly changing industry and marketplace.

To followers of Adam Smith, Ayn Rand or Michael Porter, this is not news. For today’s graduates to add value they must have either the skills or an inclination to innovate. As a business school dean, I wonder whether we are preparing them correctly. Specifically, are we equipping our students to foster innovation, either by starting new companies or helping existing firms to grow through new products or business models? Or are we maintaining the status quo (comically illustrated here)? If we are only doing the latter, then we may be the enemy of innovation.

For example, do you have an organizational chart that looks like this? If so, you may want to consider hiring employees with entrepreneurial skill sets.

The good news is that students are eager to be innovators and entrepreneurs. According to a poll taken by Bentley University, 66 percent of millennials aspire to be entrepreneurs.

At the Stetson School of Business, we have begun to offer a degree option for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs through the PMBA for Innovation (shortened to IMBA). This is no repackaged-and-renamed old degree. All 15 courses included in the traditional MBA had to be re-engineered in order to prepare students to be intra- or entrepreneurs. Instead of starting with microeconomics and statistics, the lead course in this program is idea generation. The program capstone is a business model canvas and pitch (in front of entrepreneurs and business community leaders) as opposed to a debrief on corporate strategy (graded by a faculty member).

Is It B-School Or D-School?

The courses are revamped but the functional disciplines are still relevant.

New ventures need accountants: Teach accounting students how to “create” the books—not just maintain them—by working with Quickbooks and other off-the-shelf accounting solutions software. The accounting rules have not changed.

Small businesses need marketing: Teach marketing students how to design a website, increase traffic to it, accumulate likes and favorable reviews and use social media, rather than focusing on an integrated marketing plan or ad campaign. The principles of marketing are essential.

Where will the money come from? Introduce finance students to new venture finance like crowdfunding or delivering pitches to loan officers at midsize and smaller banks (and don’t forget exit strategy and business valuation).

Hierarchy will be replaced by a team: Traditional HR is taught as team formation and management, resource planning and leader development.

Replace the functional depth approach with a general management program aimed at small businesses. A new enterprise will not have enough staff for functional departments. Assume that each employee will wear multiple hats until there are sufficient revenues (or operational funds) to grow the staff.

Don’t Forget the Soft Skills

A recent skills gap analysis conducted by Bloomberg reveals that one of the most desired and least common skillsets in the market for new business school graduates is communication. Entrepreneurs must continually sell in order to generate revenues. And intrapreneurs may face opposition internally, and must be especially effective at communicating both the why and the how of their innovation.

When designing new curricula, consider sacrificing a course in quantitative methods for professional selling, and you will help your students add real value to the organizations they represent.


In 2013, we embarked on an ambitious multi-tiered strategy to offer career-focused business education for entrepreneurs and innovators through the Stetson School of Business. Mercer further launched the Mercer Innovation Center in Macon, Georgia to help student, faculty and community-based entrepreneurs launch and build their companies. We are founding partners with Atlanta Tech Village, one of the largest tech incubators in the Southeast, and offer aspiring student entrepreneurs paid internships at tech startups. The PMBA for Innovation degree program is the first academic component in our strategy to foster innovation and entrepreneurship on our campus and in the business communities that surround us.

Based on the level of interest from individuals and companies represented across the first cohorts of students—including Cox, Coca Cola, Trane, Greystone Power, 3M, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, among others—this may be a game changer for business education as well as a competitive differentiator for Mercer University’s business school.

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