Saturday, November 28th, 2015

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The New Entrepreneur Factory

Being a young business owner seems to be the hip thing right now. More and more students are taking business risks right out of college with the hopes of earning hefty payoffs.

It’s no wonder that colleges are catering to this growing interest with sophisticated programs. Peter Burns is well aware of this trend and has gained public attention for his latest venture: a college devoted solely to the study of entrepreneurship.

It all began in May 2006 with a simple idea. Burns, then 49, a self-made millionaire who had been teaching pro bono "Entrepreneurship 101" courses in Arizona State University’s (ASU) Barrett Honors College for a year, wanted to pursue a substantial new venture. He first offered his idea of an entrepreneurial college to ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business, but was turned away cold. Still, in the face of this rejection and in the true spirit of entrepreneurship, Burns tried a bold new angle.

The former adjunct approached the Phoenix-based private Grand Canyon University (GCU) with his school concept. The idea was well received so in May 2006, he teamed up with GCU to create the nation’s first College of Entrepreneurship.

Starting with only 19 interdisciplinary students at ASU the first semester, the program grew to 94 students in the second semester at the Barrett Honors College. Burns’ program has escalated to his very own College of Entrepreneurship, with potentially thousands of new students.

Although nontraditional in approach, the college functions much like a traditional liberal arts school. Entering students study general core curriculum courses for the first two years. "The second two years are wholly focused on entrepreneurship education," Burns said.

Program offers "hands on" experience

Burns described his program as a "practical application to entrepreneurial education." In addition to their course work, the students are also introduced to an entrepreneurial project called Club Entrepreneur, now a fully functioning ASU-sanctioned organization with an expected 1,000 members. Select students become part of a project called e-Lab, a student-created plan that allows for students to research outside business concepts. These student teams are exposed to all aspects of the business formation, from creating feasibility studies and marketing plans to writing "full blown" business plans. The program will soon be introduced to Grand Canyon University.

At the new College of Entrepreneurship, all of the instructors are adjunct professors with real world entrepreneurial experiences. Select entrepreneurship course lectures are complemented by guest speakers. Prominent business leaders and fellow entrepreneurs come share their stories, many of whom were in a classroom themselves only a few years ago. "Many of our great businesses today were actually founded by college students," Burns said.

Graduates eligible for seed capital

Burns has developed a unique recipe for success with the University Entrepreneurs Fund, a specially created venture capital fund that offers initial seed and first-round funding to select student-inspired businesses formed at the College of Entrepreneurship. The entrepreneur students are granted $100,000 to invest and additional funding is available for expansion. The fund is set up to take an equity stake in the student businesses that are funded. Burns hopes to liquidate the fund in about six years and then use the appreciated equities from these companies to create a university-based nonprofit.

"At our College of Entrepreneurship, all the resources for learning how to start and run your own business are available," he said. "We give them the tools to take their creativity to a new level and help students not only quantify and create their businesses but we fully support them too… something most unusual in a traditional college education."

What does it take it make it big? Burns likens success to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. "If you put all of the pieces together correctly, you’ll end up with what you were after…success. You have to try. It’s being able to go on your own and do your own thing. You’re only limited to your imagination," he said. In short, Burns is a firm believer in the carpe diem philosophy. "We’re offered opportunities every waking moment. It’s a matter of recognizing the opportunities."

Recently Burns took the unusual (for anyone but him) step and "packaged" his College of Entrepreneurship program into a format that was filed at the U.S. Patent Office as a provisional patent pending. Four additional universities have already approached him to establish their own entrepreneurship schools. Recognizing yet another opportunity, Burns will be more than happy to consider licensing his novel concept across the U.S. and beyond.


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