Which widely recognized institutions of higher learning come to mind when you think "Big Business"? University Business readers may think of world class research universities and nationally ranked business schools like Harvard, Stanford, Baylor, Babson, or the University of Chicago. Beyond these brand name business school programs and their big league corporate benefactors, global economists, political thought leaders, and higher ed futurists are looking to "small business" as the core accelerator in the emergent global economy.
Did you realize that small businesses—fewer than 500 employees—represent the preponderance of all business firms in the United States? Indeed, small businesses create 3 out of 4 new jobs, and generate more than half of our nation's private, non-agricultural gross domestic product.
It should come as no surprise that smaller, independent business colleges with a special mission in small business entrepreneurship are now preparing the next generation of business leaders. U.S. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Judith A. McHale, put it this way "Quality entrepreneurship education is crucial to equip young people with the tools to become successful entrepreneurs. It is also important to start teaching entrepreneurship as early as possible to students in all academic fields."
So, we offer these several illustrative examples of a new breed of business school—schools focused on the teaching and learning of 21st century entrepreneurial, small business leadership skills.
Located in Troy, Michigan, Walsh College has transformed the educational attainment and career preparation needs of metropolitan Detroit's small business community—despite a cataclysmic decline in the City's biggest business—the automotive industry. Once a thriving transportation hub, Detroit attracted the investment of large auto manufacturers like Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler—to win its moniker as the "Motor City." Unhappily, gasoline rationing in the 70s, foreign competition in the 80s, corporate consolidation in the 90s, and a devastating recession in 2008-2009 created both a perfect storm and a catastrophic decline in automotive industry jobs—read as a 20+ percent unemployment rate for Detroit. That said, over the last two years these same adverse market conditions have impelled the City of Detroit to reengineer itself into a more attractive, nimble and competitive city—the new Motor City.
Uniquely, Walsh College was born out of the automotive boom—preparing upper and middle management personnel for careers within the automotive industry. In fact, Walsh's President and CEO, Stephanie Bergeron, was once a finance executive at General Motors and Chrysler.
To demonstrate commitment to students, Walsh established the Adams Entrepreneurial Fellowship program which pairs its students and alumni with small and middle business proprietors, who act as mentors to young, aspiring business majors—students who are preparing themselves to create, operate, and lead small businesses.
Beyond the Adams project, The Blackstone Charitable Foundation Entrepreneurship Initiative has fostered economic recovery in the Detroit area with the installation of the Blackstone Launch Pad—a contemporary metropolitan incubator that vets untested entrepreneurial ideas into vital businesses, and importantly, provides students with practical, executive decision-making skills, seasoned advice, and professional contacts.
One of America's remaining freestanding business colleges; Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts has earned its distinctive reputation for over a century by producing small business and middle business entrepreneurs.
Established in 1815 as Nichols Academy, over the last decade Nichols has branded a fully on-line MBA with specialties in Security Management and Sport Management. President Gerald Fels put the value of a Nichols education this way "As a private college, Nichols recognizes that professional and career preparation, and its ability to realize a return on educational investment, is an essential service to our students (and to their parents) and an important learning outcome."
In carrying out its special mission, Nichols has focused particular attention on small business women entrepreneurs—hosting the "Celebrating Women in Business 2010" conference. According to The US Small Business Administration, women-owned businesses are growing at twice the rate of all other US firms—creating more than $1 trillion in wealth and employing more than 7 million Americans.
Last yet not least, consider Kennesaw State University located in Kennesaw, Georgia—ranking 4th as an up and coming university in the South by US News and World Report. In providing its students with applied, small business skills, Kennesaw's Coles College of Business plays host to the Small Business Development Center and the Cox Family Enterprise Center. These centers have supported succession of family businesses through innovative small business leadership programs, community-based business outreach, and small business incubation. Kennesaw's dedication to this small family business niche finds special expression in the publication of Family Business Review—one of the only family business research publications of its kind.
Walsh, Nichols, and Kennesaw State remind us that in our fast changing economy, business programs need to focus on the kinds of 21st century small business skills that will drive the next generation of small business entrepreneurs—creating new jobs and new windows of investment, managed risk, and reward.
James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.), and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.