Entrepreneur.... The word has a seductive ring to it. Wouldnt it be fun to run my own business, be my own boss, make strategic plans and be able to carry them out? Wouldnt it be fun to make lots and lots of money? So what if the word also carries a hint of riskand the promise of a lot of hard work? Im young, I can do that.
If youve heard that idea at your Thanksgiving dinner table, your son or daughter is likely to wind up at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center very soon.
For students in business, engineering, and liberal arts, the center offers certificate programs and individual courses that let prospective business owners test their resolve. The center, in operation for seven years now at Iowa, is named for its major donor, John Pappajohn, one of the state of Iowas most successful entrepreneurs. Its board of advisers includes Ed Moldt, former director who has been involved in literally hundreds of ventures; John Buchanan, founder of RBP, a Marsh & McLennan Company, and a mentor to many students; and Merle Volding, founder of Banc/Tec.
Engineering, liberal arts, health sciences, and business students have taken the centers courses. Engineering students can earn a Technological Entrepreneurship Certificate.
Andrew Williams, assistant professor of electrical engineering, smiles ruefully when asked about the certificate program. "Id almost like to take it myself!" he says. "Its easy to come up with an idea (for a business venture), but to have the knowledge to make it a reality...I wish they had had this program when I was an undergraduate."
Williams teaches a course in which students write programs in the computer language C to control small cars and cranes built of Super Legos using infrared signals. The course is listed in electrical and computer engineering, but industrial, civil, and biomedical engineering students also take it to learn to use distributed artificial intelligence or multiagent systems.
Williams says he knows of students who are talking to venture capitalists to obtain financing for new businesses, and some others who have established software development firms while theyre still students.
The certificate program is old enough now that its graduates have had some time in the work world. Do they feel their entrepreneurial courses are helping them succeed? We asked two engineering graduates who received the Technological Entrepreneurial Certificateand they gave a resounding yes.
Timothy J. Bechen was one of the first engineers to graduate with a Technological Entrepreneurship Certificate added to his B.S. in electrical and computer engineering. He then went to law school and now practices as an intellectual property lawyerhelping entrepreneurs protect their inventions.
"I was one of those students who chose engineering because I am extremely interested in high technology, but I never really wanted to be the person in the lab inventing," Bechen says. "I saw engineering as a four-year program in problem-solving and the real-world advantage was that in whatever area I chose after school, I would need problem-solving ability.
"When I heard of this program, I found this to the perfect opportunity for me to gain the business education I hoped for," he says. "I felt that I had missed out on a large aspect of engineering, the businessthis is what we do with the great ideaside. After enrolling in the New Business Venture course, I knew this program was a great idea and I jumped in head first."
Bechen feels the certificate gave him a competitive advantage in his career, helping him get into one of the best intellectual property law schools and then into his current firm.
"When I interviewed with different law firms, I was asked about the program by almost everyone I talked to. And it provides me with credibility when I discuss business-related issues with clients and colleagues."
He works with clients of all sizes, and says he sees where innovation grows and falters.
"I at least can make (clients) aware of strategic and potential damaging issues that can easily be overlooked," he says. "The certificate program in essence provided me the business thinking outside-the-box approach to problem solving. I am currently using this approach in the legal world, but I have been able to appreciate it in the business and engineering worlds."
Bechen calls the certificate program "a diamond in the rough."
"This program rewards creativity unlike any other area of undergraduate study. Also, it never lets you rest on your heels. You have to apply your prior knowledge to keep going forward, just as in business. Through the professors, us horn-rimmed pocket-protector-wearing engineering nerds are transformed into leaders."
Susan Jongewaard says she originally took the courses as a break from the usual engineering diet of math and sciences in her engineering courses.
"It was an opportunity to stretch my mind in a different direction," she says.
Having the certificate on her transcript gave her a competitive edge when she interviewed for jobs.
"Course work regarding business ventures, consulting, business plans, and entrepreneurship is an attention-grabber in todays world. As the dot-coms have shown, nearly anyone can start a business; its those who are savvy entrepreneurs that succeed, though. Employers recognize that kind of knowledge and pursue it for themselves and their employees," she says.
Now Jongewaard, an interface specialist for an entrepreneurial software company in Kansas City, Mo., says her certificate course work "helps me to understand the milestones, aims, and even struggles that the company goes through as it matures. Its easier for me to translate how my position fits into the framework when I know what the framework is."
When Jongewaard was still an Iowa student, an article on Iowas program (and others like it across the country) appeared in Inc. magazine.
"When the reporter asked me about the program, I made the statement that engineering feeds my mind, but entrepreneurship feeds my soul. It still holds true.
"Engineering has the ability to challenge my mental capacities like no other field, testing my knowledge and computational skills," she says.
"Entrepreneurship, though, gives me the opportunity to express those abilities in unique and creative ways. If engineering is a skill, entrepreneurship is the art, application, and expression of that skill in todays workplace."
-By Anne Tanner