Principles of entrepreneurship benefit everyone

For the last few years, I have had the good fortune of being asked to talk to managers of small, medium and large companies about innovating in the corporate environment.

Innovation is a big, popular topic these days. It’s a word that can excite employees and cause some senior executives to cringe. At my last discussion, we addressed a rather resurrected point of view for innovating within corporations, the concept of intrapreneurship.

Many of you may have heard of this concept before. It means acting like an entrepreneur while working within a company’s structure. Many of us have done something like this in our careers. Maybe we opened a new market for our company, found a new application for an existing product or disrupted a mature market with a new way of providing services.

I’ve done it many times in my career. The idea is that you break out of the organization’s normal rigid processes and culture and discover new ways of doing business, markets, applications of technology, materials.

There are plenty of examples of where this has been done. Products like 3Ms Post-It notes, laundry detergent pods, the iPhone. The opportunities are most likely boundless for your company if you were to unleash the potential within your people. But how do your employees know how to do this, and then do it consistently?

Why it matters

Entrepreneurship is being taught at almost every level in our schools today. It started with higher education, at universities, nearly every college and university in the U.S. has classes in entrepreneurship. The Kaufman Foundation found over 5,000 entrepreneurship classes are being offered at institutions of higher learning.

Almost every one of the 68 colleges and universities in Northeast Ohio offers a class, minor or major. Foundations are putting big money behind programs to teach entrepreneurship, even down to the primary schools.

Entrepreneurship education is not really about starting your own business. Some people have, are and will, but most students won’t start a business. It’s hard work with big risks. Many who major or minor in entrepreneurship will go to work for somebody, some will be 1099 employees.

Doing project work is a reality for many in the new flexible world of work. Those that take entrepreneurship classes learn so much more than “starting a business 101.”

The principles learned in these classes — problem definition, gap analysis, problem solving, target market identification, market analysis, sales pitches, idea communication and presentation skills — they all have application for nearly any job in every organization, for profit, not for profit and social enterprises, private and public.

Students of all types, age ranges, backgrounds, and experience levels gain an understanding of how to identify a need, communicate a solution, and get customers, whoever they may be, to engage.

If you want your employees to be intrapreneurs, send them to school, enroll them in entrepreneurship classes. They win, you win.

John Myers is entrepreneur-in-residence, director TA2 at the University of Mount Union.