Monday, June 12, 2006

Apprenticeships for Budding Entrepreneurs

Southwestern Pennsylvania isn't the only place concerned about low rates of entrepreneurship relative to the U.S. as a whole.

So is the European Union.

Concerned about low rates of economic growth in the EU vs. the U.S., two of Europe's top business schools -- France's INSEAD and Spain's IESE -- launched a new European Entrepreneurship Accelerator program in January. The program places 30 MBA candidates from INSEAD and IESE in six rapidly-growing companies run by serial entrepreneurs. One of the students participating said "It was a really inspiring experience, we were able to get inside the company and the mind of the guys that set it up."

Peter Z√°boji, INSEAD Entrepreneur-in-Residence says, "Europe is spoiled for choice when it comes to business ideas or capital; what we are short of is entrepreneurial experience. This project is intended to give our students the opportunity to realize that there are better opportunities beyond big business, big banks and big consultancies!"

The concept of entrepreneurial apprenticeship or internship programs isn't new. Over the past several years, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City has funded a number of entrepreneurial internship programs across the country, including programs in the Pittsburgh Region at Carnegie Mellon, Chatham, and Pitt. Innovation Works has also had a summer internship program to place MBA students with its portfolio companies. Last month, Carnegie Mellon established the James R. Swartz Entrepreneurial Fellowship Program, which will enable twelve students at the Tepper School of Business to participate in paid summer internships in companies across the U.S., beginning in the Silicon Valley.

But although these efforts are good, they are much smaller than what is needed in light of the low rate of entrepreneurship in the Pittsburgh Region. There is no reason why the programs should be limited to MBA students; many individuals have managed to be successful entrepreneurs without an MBA. As noted in an earlier post, economic development agencies in the Washington, D.C. area are trying to encourage researchers to become entrepreneurs. For that matter, why wait until a student has already chosen a field of research for graduate study? Use entrepreneurial internship programs while students are undergraduates to help them envision a career in commercializing as well as developing technological breakthroughs.

Although there is no guarantee that an entrepreneurial internship will create an entrepreneur, there is also potential benefit of an internship to an existing startup company, particularly if the internship is funded through government or philanthropic resources. Although an intern can sometimes be a mixed blessing to an employer, there is a lot of work involved in starting up a company that a smart and motivated intern can help with, thereby freeing up the entrepreneur's time to focus on the most critical tasks, and possibly reducing the cash needed for personnel expenses.

From a regional economic development perspective, it's important that internships be in local companies. The disadvantage of the Tepper School program is that it is placing students in companies located in other parts of the country -- although that's good experience for the students, it's of less help to existing startups located in the Pittsburgh Region, and it also may make it more likely that the students will start their own ventures in the region where they interned, since they will have a head-start on a network there, not here.

Expanding entrepreneurial internship programs to more colleges and universities and to more types of students within those schools, and focusing placements on startup companies within the Pittsburgh Region, could be an important component to an overall regional strategy for boosting entrepreneurship.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The biggest problem facing entrepreneurs in the region is not entrepreneurial prowess or capability, but rather access to capital. Hence, the low rate of entrepreneurship in the Pittsburgh Region.

1:07 PM  

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