How Does USF Nurture Entrepreneurial Spirit?
This summer, Forbes ranked the University of San Francisco #21 on their list of America’s Most Entrepreneurial Universities. To a school that prides itself on its entrepreneurship and innovation, this is a welcome acknowledgement. And it’s an acknowledgement that’s based not on opinion but on empirical evidence. Forbes ranked America’s universities by calculating their entrepreneurial ratio: the number of students and alumni who have started their own company against the school’s total student body (undergraduate and graduate combined).
Many students come to USF specifically because they are interested in becoming entrepreneurs, and because they know that an education from USF will enable them to make that dream a reality. But exactly how does USF nurture this entrepreneurial spirit?
1. Two words: Silicon Valley.
USF is located in the heart of the start-up capital of the world: Silicon Valley. Surrounded by famous Bay Area-based companies like Google, Salesforce, Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Uber and PayPal, USF students are constantly exposed to great entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies. Students also benefit from the many entrepreneurship-related activities that are always happening in the Bay Area, such as NewCo, an annual two-day business festival during which the most innovative Bay Area companies open their doors to the public.
2. Innovative internships where you do more than Xerox pages.
During School of Management undergraduate studies, internships are encouraged; during most graduate studies, they are required. An internship is the best way to learn first-hand how entrepreneurship works on a practical level. “In the Master of Global Entrepreneurial Management, we provide students with internships in entrepreneurial companies,” says Dr. Jennifer Walske. “Usually they are placed with a young company in the early stages, and then with larger, more established companies in the last semester. That way they see multiple sides to the entrepreneurial process; by the time they graduate, they have helped a young company grow and become more successful, and they have helped a more established company expand to different markets.”
USF’s Master of Science in Analytics (MSAN) requires students to partake in a practicum experience, which is largely the same as an internship but requires a lot of additional one-on-one mentoring. “We look for innovative companies that will present our students with business problems that have data-driven solutions,” says Dr. Jeff Hamrick, Co-Director of the MSAN program. “What we’re looking for most is true interaction. Most students end up staying with their practicum companies for the duration of the Master's degree, and many are hired upon graduation.”
All data scientists who have graduated from USF’s MSAN program so far have enjoyed an exceptional 100% placement rate within three months of graduating, mostly with innovative Bay Area companies.
3. Master in Global Entrepreneurial Management.
Entrepreneurship is a movement towards change,” says Professor Jennifer Walske, Director of the MGEM program. “This goes for economic change and societal change. It’s great to have the numbers prove that USF accomplishes its mission. We are a vital part of the entrepreneurial economy of the Bay Area.”
The students in the Master in Global Entrepreneurial Management (MGEM) program spend a semester in Taipei, Taiwan, a semester in Barcelona, Spain, and a semester in San Francisco. The MGEM curriculum is completely focused on studying entrepreneurship through a global lens, and it immerses the students in a global business experience. During a venture capital course, students take a business idea and develop it throughout the semester they spend in Taiwan, focusing on how to get funding for their idea. Students also participate in a consulting course during which they are paired with companies, first in Barcelona and then again in their final semester, in San Francisco.
“There is a heavy emphasis within the MGEM program on students coming to the program precisely because they are interested in starting a business,” says Dr. Walske. “We help them throughout the program to nurture this interest, and we give them the skills and know-how to make that dream a reality once they graduate.”
4. And, of course, the Professors.
“USF has wonderful professors,” says Chris Chang, alumnus of the MGEM program. “A lot of them are super experienced in the entrepreneurial sphere and many came from Silicon Valley. They give out invaluable advice, they have extensive experience in the field and know how to point you in the right direction.”
The esteemed School of Management professors are not just academics, but seasoned professionals who have enjoyed illustrious careers in the private and public sectors. They go out of their way to nurture students’ interest in entrepreneurship and innovation. Many professors organize visits to innovative companies for their classes. “I’ll never forget our most recent company visit,” said Dr. Walske. “This summer we went to Google Earth and the Googleplex, Google’s headquarters. John Hanke is something of a serial entrepreneur, and he now runs Niantic Labs, which is a startup lab within Google. He warned my students that the life of an entrepreneur is lonely and hard, because if you’re doing it right, then nobody has walked this particular road before.”
5. The Entrepreneurship and Innovation department.
USF’s School of Management has an entire department dedicated solely to Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Students who focus on business during their undergraduate degree and get their Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) degree can choose from many interesting business-related majors, one of which is Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The Entrepreneurship and Innovation program prepares students to design, launch, and grow new business ventures. Aligned with USF’s institutional commitment to develop responsible global stewards, the entrepreneurship curriculum places special emphasis on high-growth and socially oriented ventures. The curriculum includes courses such as Nuts and Bolts of Entrepreneuring (no, that's not a typo), Entrepreneurship & Business Plan Development, Internet Business Applications, Entrepreneurial Finance, and Creativity, Innovation and Product Development. The E&I department is led by Professor Mark Cannice, Ph.D., an internationally recognized scholar of entrepreneurship and venture capital, who is perhaps best known for writing the widely-followed quarterly Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist Confidence Index Report.
6. Entrepreneurship competitions.
Students at the USF School of Management partake in a number of both in-class and extracurricular competitions that are designed to provide them with entrepreneurial business experience. The International Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) is one such competition. The VCIC is essentially a reverse business plan competition: teams of MBA students from more than 50 leading universities take on the role of venture capitalists and evaluate actual entrepreneurial ventures. This allows them to see things from an investor’s point of view, which is a useful experience for their entrepreneurial careers after graduation.
Another competition the students participate in is Startup Weekend, a program that encourages people with different skill sets to come together and create a viable company in 54 hours. Their mission is to foster entrepreneurship and innovation, and their hands-on approach enables people to learn through creating. “Creating a successful company in 54 hours is difficult, of course,” says Chris Chang, alumnus of USF’s MGEM program and now Southwest Regional Manager for UP Global, the nonprofit responsible for organizing Startup Weekend. “But when students participate in Startup Weekend they get fundamentals out of it. Starting a business, putting a lot of theoretical things they’ve learned in class into practice. It’s a huge keystone for learning, and Startup Weekend is just one of the many resources that entrepreneurs have access to in the Bay Area.” Chang initiated this year’s involvement of the USF MGEM students in Startup Weekend. “I thought it would be useful for the students, not just from a networking perspective but also from experience and skill perspectives. I’d completed an internship with UP Global the year before, and I knew how valuable Startup Weekend was as something both professionals and students can benefit from. And they had a high success rate, they came out with tangible outcomes, something they could be proud of as well as experience they could put on their resumes.”
7. Global, with a capital G.
During Academic Global Immersion (AGI) trips, various experienced School of Management professors lead a group of students to study innovative businesses abroad. The AGI programs are an ideal way for students to gain real-world experience and insights political, legal, economic and cultural dimensions of doing business overseas. Most AGI trips take place annually, and past destinations have included China, Finland, India, the United Kingdom, Latin America, Turkey, Russia, Spain, and Dubai.
Dr. Mouwafac Sidaoui, Chair of the Business Analytics and Information Systems department at the School of Management, has been leading the annual AGI trip to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates since 2009. “We’re trying to bridge the gap between theory and practice for the students,” says Dr. Sidaoui. “Through conversations with business executives, the students bridge the gap between what they learn in the classroom and the implications these things have in the real world, the gap between an abstract concept and a place in reality. And we also immerse ourselves in the local culture. It is extremely valuable for students to understand cultural challenges and opportunities around the world, and what it is for [international, innovative companies] to operate within a global context.”
8. Resourceful alumni and alumni resources.
“USF’s alumni network is extremely valuable,” says Chang. “Students can use the resources the university makes available, like alumni and college counseling, and the career services center – resources that are available to both undergraduate and graduate students. I know that after I graduated I made a lot of use of that. It’s a truly accessible way of providing students with mentorship, which has always been a challenge for entrepreneurs. You have to be really scrappy to be an entrepreneur, but USF gives students the tools, skills, and assistance to know where to go after getting their degree, how to make their entrepreneurial dreams their reality.”
By connecting with USF’s alumni at mixers, through professors, and through company visits, students have access to decades of entrepreneurial experience that they can benefit from.
“USF’s slogan Change the World From Here could be interpreted in the entrepreneurial sense, too,” Chang continued. “A lot of students have that message internalized from the very start of their time at USF. It ties into the entrepreneurial spirit, I think, the desire to build something, to make a difference, and it’s certainly something USF’s students aspire to.”
By Inge Lamboo