New Efforts in Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Faculty Specializing in Start-Ups, Social Enterprise, and Special Projects Indicate Bright Future for ‘New Realists’

Newswise — Entrepreneurship: It’s a buzzword on a lot of college campuses, in executive boardrooms, and among venture capitalists, franchisers, advocates and believers in the American dream of self-sufficiency and inventiveness that pays off. But really—what is it?

At the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business, entrepreneurship is being redefined—it’s no longer enough to claim to be an entrepreneur as a result of an affinity for creativity, or an impulse to start projects with the hope that they bear fruit. Today’s entrepreneur—and tomorrow’s business leader—is intensely focused on business basics, like competitive pricing, financial forecasting, IT and human resources, and is fusing those skills with the kind of innovation that can prove to be a game changer.

“Change is the operative word in the world of entrepreneurship,” says Merrick Dean Darlene Smith. “Our economy changes, our priorities change, our expectations as business people and consumers change. The entrepreneur—the kind of student we are seeing more and more of in the School of Business, and across the University in our School of Law, our College of Public Affairs and our College of Arts and Sciences—is fundamentally engaged in change, and is determined to make his or her concepts viable in an evolving marketplace. We used to call them dreamers, but I believe that our entrepreneurs are actually the new realists—they’re the ones who recognize that the future is going to be ideally suited for those who are self-reliant, creative, flexible and well-prepared.”

Smith noted that Maryland consistently ranks at or near the top in research and development and economic preparation, but does not have as strong a track record in terms of entrepreneurial activity.

“There should be no disconnect between those two fundamentals,” she said. “Strong R&D should naturally lead to a strong profile for small business and start-ups. We have a role to play there.”

In order to give students a solid foundation in entrepreneurship, and, in turn, improving that link, Smith said the school is requiring a high level of academic rigor in the fundamentals and infusing its learning program with experiences in real-world business settings.

For example, next fall it will introduce its Entrepreneurship Fellows Program, which will balance classroom theory with immersive, hands-on experience with entrepreneurial “gazelles”—Maryland-based small-business success stories who welcome the opportunity to share their expertise with these high-achieving students.

For those budding entrepreneurs with a desire to take their working knowledge in science and technology to new levels, in fall 2013 the school will introduce a new master’s level program in Innovation Management and Technology Commercialization. The program—the only one of its kind in the region—blends technological, market-based and organizational focal points as its central goal, and offers a capstone practicum in collaboration with the Maryland Technology Development Corporation.

The Merrick School of Business also has strategically hired faculty with expertise in entrepreneurship. .These scholars are conducting national and global-scale research into the field of entrepreneurial studies and social enterprise—a growing area of interest for non-profits seeking to find new ways to supplement their bottom lines through products and services related to their missions. They are also assisting students in start-up ventures, and bringing in outside experts to trade ideas and solutions.

Yet another approach is being delivered through the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, where director Johnetta Hardy is creating new pathways for students who want to test their business ideas in “proving ground” conditions, with the understanding that even the best concepts and plans need guidance and tweaking.

Hardy recently organized a half-day experience for UB students with Startup Maryland’s “Pitch Across Maryland” bus tour, which sponsored a business pitch competition that drew dozens of applicants from students across the campus. The bus, which toured business incubators, economic development agencies, community colleges and universities across the state, highlighted entrepreneurship and allowed Maryland’s newest crop of entrepreneurs a chance to make their “elevator pitch” to those with experiences in starting and nurturing new businesses.

“We had a tremendous response to the competition,” Hardy says. “It sparked so much conversation about small business and how to get started among the students and faculty. All of these folks are looking forward to more opportunities to ‘show their stuff,’ and we’re going to make sure they get them.”

Six students were selected by UB faculty experts as having the best ideas out of an original group of more than 50 students. Isaac Schleifer, a senior business administration major, he was declared the winner and the recipient of the pitch competition’s grand prize of $1,000. Schleifer offered a pitch that impressed the UB judge with a service and software package designed for nonprofits that want to hold grass roots fundraisers such as a raffle.

The School of Business also has established a seed fund for students who are putting together business plans—seemingly an everyday occurrence in a student population that is a robust mix of young people and working adults.

“The Merrick School of Business has always had a strong relationship with entrepreneurs,” Smith said. “We believe in them, because they innovate, they get going, and they achieve. Some of our most successful graduates have been complete self-starters. Where we’re strengthening our position is in the new frontier of combining these innate skills with what people are learning to do in businesses, small and large, new and established. It’s about leadership and management techniques, finding the right partners, getting close to those who are already doing what you would love to do, too. It’s about improving, and thus improving your chances of success. It really is the new reality, and it is a defining characteristic of our school.”

The University of Baltimore is a member of the University System of Maryland and comprises the School of Law, the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Public Affairs and the Merrick School of Business.