The 21st century worker must assiduously build entrepreneurial and innovation skills to remain nimble, and consistently add value throughout a career path that will likely present many twists and turns. This prescription applies whether that individual becomes an entrepreneur, works for a startup, establishes a nonprofit or is employed by a large corporation.
The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a leader in the field of entrepreneurship education, offers programming that “activates the entrepreneurial mindset and builds startup skills in youth.” NFTE describes the entrepreneurial mindset as the composite of attitudes, skills and behaviors that position students to succeed over a lifespan. These attributes include initiative and self-direction, intelligent risk-taking, adaptability, creativity, opportunity recognition, critical thinking, resilience and problem-solving prowess.
The teaching of entrepreneurship and innovation skills requires a blended approach — one-part hard skills that can be garnered through mentorship or classroom learning, and another part soft skills to be absorbed through trial-and-error experience. While it is self-apparent how the entrepreneurial mindset applies in the startup community, the application of the entrepreneurial mindset in the corporate world, often referred to as “intrapreneurship,” is more nuanced.
John Peluso, program manager of innovation at PolyOne, based in Avon Lake, thinks about these challenges every day, focusing on the many ways the entrepreneurial mindset is important to his company’s innovation culture as a global supplier of specialized polymer materials. He describes the criticality of teaching “future entrepreneurs what they need to know to navigate the performance engine environment, make positive contributions, and exercise their innovation and entrepreneurship muscles.” Performance engines are those established work streams and longstanding ways of doing things in a corporate environment.
Peluso is convinced that “would-be entrepreneurs need different training than they’re receiving today on how to succeed in the performance engine environment of the corporate world, for the benefit of their host companies, for their own career development and fulfillment, and ultimately for the good of society.” He believes that students need to understand not just the process for innovation and change, but also the “soft skills of influence, diplomacy and collaboration that are so critical to secure scarce resources and political cover when stretching the organization’s comfort zone.”
In Northeast Ohio, the nonprofit EDGE is focused on supporting midsize companies seeking to grow through the incorporation of innovation and entrepreneurship principles into their core. The EDGE Fellows Program has been operating for more than a decade assembling talented student teams “to identify and validate new business opportunities and make recommended go-to-market action steps.” During summer of 2018, 10 graduate-level students worked in teams of two to analyze ideas percolating at manufacturing, technology and bioscience companies. Since 2007, of the more than 84 projects the Fellows have pursued, 50 percent have advanced to generate new revenue. These students are well on their way to understanding what it means to apply the entrepreneurial mindset on the cutting edge of innovation within dynamic companies.
Deborah D. Hoover is president and CEO of The Burton D. Morgan Foundation, which is leveraging its extensive experience in venture philanthropy and ecosystem expansion, pursuing a strategic blueprint that will drive entrepreneurial growth and education regionally and nationally by supporting those with the courage to power our economy.