Students will be able to pitch business ideas, just like on ABC-TV’s ‘Shark Tank’
Almost everything people do on the job starts with an idea, and with the skills to sell that idea. Whether it’s a counselor offering her professional services, a company looking to diversify into new product lines, a person starting a small business or a human services grad setting up a non-profit, all of them needed to brainstorm an idea, refine it, bring it to market and sell it to customers.
Because these skills are so valuable to employers, NLU is starting a four-course entrepreneurship concentration available to undergraduate students in most College of Professional Studies and Advancement (CPSA) programs. It focuses on the innovation, leadership and sales skills necessary for entrepreneurs starting their own businesses or intrapreneurs, who innovate and bring entrepreneurial thinking while working within an established business, non-profit or government agency.
“All of those organizations really value employees who are independent self-starters, who can lead teams, be creative to figure out solutions, design new products and services and solve workplace problems,” said Vlad Dolgopolov, Ph.D., Associate Dean of NLU’s College of Professional Studies and Advancement.
Students can easily fit the entrepreneurship concentration into their course load, taking its four courses as part of their general electives. It won’t extend their time to graduation, and it will be noted on their transcripts, giving them an extra credential to impress potential employers.
Stephen Thompson, Ph.D., Director of the CPSA’s School of Business and Management, described the concentration as ideal for not only someone who wants to start a business or work in an organization, but for those who intend to start any kind of professional practice.
“Once counselors, for example, get their LCPC credential, they have to bill and charge for their services, and operate a business,” he said.
The entrepreneurship concentration would also be valuable to businesses which have been successful but know that their market won’t always remain the same.
“They say if your business isn’t busy growing, it’s busy dying,” Thompson said. “An intrapreneur may start an innovation wing within an organization. They might start a new program within an organization, or recommend a new business model altogether.“
The intrapreneur would take an idea, see if it fits within the constraints of the organization, flesh it out so the business could try it and measure the results.
“I think we’ll see more organizations have intrapreneurs in the future,” Thompson said.
One of the new concentration’s courses is an Entrepreneurship Lab, a capstone course. It will take one of two forms. In the first, students can group into teams, develop a business plan and pitch it to a jury of professional business people, just the way entrepreneurs do on the ABC-TV show “Shark Tank.”
Alternatively, students may be assigned to real-world organizations, where they might try to solve a business problem. For example, if a company had a problem with chronic absenteeism, students could act as third-party consultants, work to isolate the root problem, brainstorm ideas and come up with a cleverly-designed solution.
“Having those skills is important,” Dolgopolov said. “To be able to walk into an employer and say you have done something like that is valuable.
“We have a push at CPSA to infuse our programs with added value for professional careers.”
Both options in the lab course bring students into contact with working business people, which increases their opportunities for feedback and networking. NLU is looking at partnerships with entrepreneurs and incubators such as 1871. That could also give graduates a leg up.
The other entrepreneurship courses stress fundamentals which would help an entrepreneur or intrapreneur capture success. They include banking, financing, accounting, marketing, human resources, legal considerations and more. This knowledge would help both intrepreneurs and full-time or part-time entrepreneurs, such as people who want to start a sideline business in addition to their main occupation.
The concentration’s emphasis, however, is on innovation, leadership, problem-solving and selling.
“Two-thirds to three-quarters of people use selling skills extensively, because they have to sell a product or idea to external or internal audiences—yet few college courses teach it,” said Dolgopolov. “That makes this a unique and leading-edge program.”