The concept of entrepreneurship has been defined in many ways. A common thread that runs through all definitions is that an entrepreneur is one who starts a new business, organizes its activities, assumes all its risks, and works for herself/himself.

The concept of entrepreneurship has been defined in many ways. A common thread that runs through all definitions is that an entrepreneur is one who starts a new business, organizes its activities, assumes all its risks, and works for herself/himself.

Economists have a more circumscribed definition. The entrepreneur is one who combines input resources innovatively to produce value to customers such that the value exceeds the cost of inputs. Innovation is central to this definition--it emphasizes innovation in the context of products, production methods, markets and organization of work. Because innovation is believed to emerge from creative efforts, the labels of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship are often used synonymously.

Entrepreneurship vs. family business The significance of entrepreneurship to family business is that almost all family businesses have their roots in entrepreneurial start-up ventures. The primary distinction between family or “small” businesses and mature entrepreneurial businesses is one of scale of wealth generation.

While family businesses often prioritize income stream as a replacement for employment, the goal of entrepreneurial ventures is substantial wealth generation, typically in the vicinity of several million dollars of profit. Furthermore, while the successful family business may generate several millions of dollars over its lifetime, the successful entrepreneur will do so in a much shorter time, perhaps within five years. Given the well-known relationship between innovation, risk and reward, what this means is that the entrepreneur takes on more risk and pursues more radical innovations than a typical small business owner.

Educating entrepreneurs In the College of Business at University of Arkansas--Fort smith (UAFS), entrepreneurship is, and has been for at least a decade, a significant component of the academic program. In addition, the Family Enterprise Center (FEC) at UAFS, once a part of the College of Business, is a thriving and critical resource for family businesses in the region. Educating budding and seasoned entrepreneurs involves teaching critical domain knowledge concepts such as developing a value proposition, segmenting the market, value chain analysis, revenue model, competitive strategy, and more.

At the heart of the domain knowledge is a thorough understanding of the business model, which can only be comprehended and derived by drawing on functional subject areas such as economics, marketing, finance, production, etc. We educate and train our students to integrate, synthesize, and develop innovative business models. We accomplish this via a purposeful sequence of subject matter courses, integrative project-based courses, internships, and co-curricular activities that refine students’ knowledge of entrepreneurial practice.

While subject matter competence is important, research in the area of entrepreneurship has demonstrated that the success of an entrepreneurial venture is critically dependent on personal traits, characteristics, and the mindset of the entrepreneur. These are “deep knowledge” capabilities that cannot be taught in a workshop or classroom, but have to be cultivated and nurtured through practice. For instance, developing the right mindset cannot be accomplished by listening to an expert or teacher.

Mindset is an example of a “habit of the mind”–something that can only be developed over time by purposefully training the mind to think in a particular way. It is in the development of these deep knowledge competencies that the expertise of the professors, their pedagogy, and the rigor of the business program pays huge dividends. Examine a couple of examples of how valuable deep knowledge capabilities are developed.

Intellectual curiosity A pervasive ethos of all classes in the College of Business is provoking curiosity. Students are encouraged, and sometimes goaded, to ask questions. The questioning mind, over time, develops into an intellectually curious mind. Entrepreneurs need to remain curious to find the “gaps” in the market where they have an opportunity to enter and compete.

Moreover, research has found that entrepreneurs operate in such a way that they allow discovery of their goals over time, rather than beginning with the perfect end in mind. Thinking entrepreneurially leads to “the ability to turn the unexpected into the profitable.” Curiosity is the channel for this type of creative, entrepreneurial thinking.

Improvisation & accepting risk of failure Entrepreneurs are excellent at improvisation. Instead of reasoning causally (having a clear road map at the outset of what can cause the imagined end), entrepreneurs focus on means at their disposal and allow clarity and goals to arise over time through imagination and spontaneity.

This sort of business adaptability, agility and spontaneous innovation can only be inculcated by repeatedly practicing the virtuous loop of act-measure/test-pivot. Most important of all, a mindset, developed in the crucible of practicing the virtuous loop of act-measure-pivot, is not deterred by risks that would paralyze a mind trained to think in a conventional linear fashion.

Practice is the essence of our business program and we deliver this through our project-based programs and co-curricular activities. For example, our Certificate in Community Leadership, a three-course program that culminates in a project in which students actively solve real-world community problems. Not only do our budding entrepreneurs solve critical problems in the community, but the public nature of the effort teaches them to effectively handle pressure, be spontaneous, and think on their feet.

To sum up, entrepreneurs are the catalysts that spark economic resurgence and vitality in a community. Some entrepreneurs choose to grow their “start-ups” at a modest, deliberate pace and evolve into family or small businesses. Others choose a steeper growth trajectory and morph into multi-million dollar entrepreneurial enterprises. The College of Business at UAFS is committed to nurturing the business ecosystem in the region. Committing our resources to develop entrepreneurs of all shades is one way in which we “have skin in the game.”

Dr. Ashok Subramanian

By Dr. Ashok Subramanian

Dr. Ashok Subramanian is the Dean and Joel R. Stubblefield Endowed Chair in the College of Business at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith. He has both a PhD in Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Houston, as well as a BSc in Chemistry and Physics from the University of Bombay, India. He has extensive experience as a consultant and entrepreneur in the IT sector. Prior to his current position at UAFS, Dr. Subramanian’s leadership career includes being Dean of the Harold Walter Siebens School of Business at Buena Vista University, Iowa 


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