State Schools Fuel Future Startups

Chris Hanks
Chris Hanks 

KENNESAW, Ga. (Jul 31, 2015) — Small businesses play a major role in Georgia’s economy. If fact, according to the Georgia Department of Labor, 98 percent of workers in the state are employed by companies with fewer than 100 employees.

Georgia’s universities are taking note. They are providing more courses for those who want to run or work at a startup.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship [are] huge right now,” said Nancy Wright Whatley, executive director of the Georgia Business Success Center at Kennesaw State University. “The world is changing daily as we know it. At KSU, in Cobb County and in the north metro Atlanta region, we recognize that most of the new job creation is going to come from smaller companies and companies that don’t exist today.”

Once they do exist, Whatley wants to keep them here.

“Stay here and create your businesses here and raise your kids here and put your dollars back into the community,” Whatley said. “If we don’t focus on it, then our talent is going to leave the region.”

According to data collected by the Georgia Board of Regents, all eight of the state’s research and comprehensive universities provide entrepreneurial and startup services of some sort, and seven of those offer entrepreneurship education. The curricula range from certificate programs to advanced degrees, teaching students everything from how to create a business plan to raising venture capital.

The main goal of these programs is not always to produce another business owner, according to Tiffany Bussey, director of Morehouse College’s Entrepreneurship Center. “It’s about changing a mindset and creating leaders to be those that look for and seek opportunities and put together resources to solve problems.”

Over the past several years, entrepreneurship has been the fastest-growing curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular activity on college campuses, according to the 2015 State of Entrepreneurship Address by Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The millennial generation (born 1981 to 1997) has become the most out of any preceding generation to be exposed to formal education in entrepreneurship.

“It greatly enhances your chances of success,” said Andrea Hershatter, director of the bachelor’s of business administration program at Emory University. “If you have the tools, approach and methodology to think through all of the steps that go into starting a business, you are reducing the risk.”

The programs are further supported by campus organizations, competitions, and events revolving around the entrepreneurial spirit. In this way, the university serves as a melting pot of talents from students studying a host of different interests.

“A university is a place where all of those different groups can get together with like-minded people and benefit from the synergy that comes from that diversity,” Hershatter said.

As they learn what it takes to start a business and keep it running, students also share that knowledge with others beyond the college campus.

“Our companies come into the classroom and our students also come out,” Bussey said. Morehouse College students help provide technical assistance services to small minority-owned businesses locally and nationally. That way, the students get the experience they need while helping a fellow entrepreneur in the community in real time.

The lessons and support continue even after graduation.

“Once you are part of our center, you are part of our center,” said Chris Hanks, founder and executive director of the Kennesaw State University’s Entrepreneurship Center. “We are going to be there and we are going to be a resource to help you become a better version of yourself.”

Hanks said that having a well-rounded program was an important part in making KSU’s new entrepreneurship program what he hopes will be “the destination point for entrepreneurship for both students and aspiring and existing entrepreneurs.”

“We don’t care whether you are an existing business owner or a startup business owner. You don’t have to be a business student,” Hanks said. KSU hosts an event once a month where people in the community can come and learn the best practices from 25 areas in entrepreneurship.

Kennesaw also hosts CEO-only events and will maintain a 30-hour certificate program for community members who want to earn a certificate in certain topics under the entrepreneurial umbrella.

As demand for more training picks up, so do the number of academic programs. Kennesaw State’s new entrepreneurship major launches this fall. With it, Hanks said he hopes not only to inform students, but to also transform them with the entrepreneurial mindset.

“A student will enter the center and program and leave a different and better version of themselves,” Hanks said. “I don’t know a better tool than entrepreneurship to do that. It changes the way we think, the way we behave and the way we act. We are the backbone of this economy and that’s a powerful thing."