Entrepreneurs: Born or Made?

Katrina Craven, Director of Marketing and Communications, UTC College of Business

Can you teach entrepreneurship or is it an inherent quality?

Dr. Beverly Brockman, the George Lester Nation Professor of Entrepreneurship and head of the Marketing and Entrepreneurship department in the UTC College of Business, says both.

“Many people used to think that entrepreneurs are born, not made,” Brockman says. “Today, I believe many would argue that successful entrepreneurs are a result of innate characteristics, the environment and the development of a particular set of skills that are needed to create and build a venture.”

Brockman believes studying entrepreneurship can provide an environment that encourages creativity and calculated risk-taking, and can bring out innate characteristics important for entrepreneurship that have been lying dormant in a student.
“Studying entrepreneurship can definitely help in developing the skillset needed to start and build a venture,” she says.

Dr. Brockman shares her thoughts on the value of studying entrepreneurship.

Trend: What are the skills necessary to be a successful entrepreneur?

Brockman: The critical skills needed for successful entrepreneurship lie in three broad areas: opportunity recognition, resource leveraging and team development.

Opportunity recognition includes skills such as alertness to changes in demographic or social conditions that create unmet needs; understanding the core elements of a business model and recognizing models that can be scaled versus those that will be limited in growth; skills in feasibility analysis – market analysis, financial analysis and operational analysis.

On the soft side of opportunity recognition, students need to develop capabilities in creative problem solving and adaptation. Virtually all ventures will morph into some adaptation of the original business model.

In the resource leveraging category lie skills such as cash flow management; developing financial projections, particularly in preparation for high growth; bootstrapping techniques; managing the split in financing between debt and equity; and negotiating the financing deal.

Finally, in team development students need to develop skills in managing a changing organization structure as the venture grows; human resource capabilities in hiring, job descriptions and evaluation, as well as skills in thinking strategically. The soft side of team building is absolutely critical and includes capabilities such as building a strong culture for the firm, conveying a vision, managing conflict and understanding the need for complementary skill sets among team members.

UTC addresses all these areas and more in its curriculum designed to develop strong skills in business basics – accounting, finance, marketing and management – along with more entrepreneurship specific skills, such as business model development and analysis. The core courses in entrepreneurship include a new venture creation course, a creativity and innovation course, an entrepreneurial finance course, and a managing venture growth course. The students can also choose from a variety of electives such as digital marketing, sales and integrated marketing communications.

Trend: Why study entrepreneurship instead of jumping right in to starting a business?

Brockman: Actually, I would recommend that a student go ahead and start a business while in school. Experiential education is critical in entrepreneurship. 

At UTC, we require application of the concepts we are teaching in our courses. For example, in our new venture creation course, students come up with a business concept and then develop the business model and business plan to accompany it. In our managing venture growth course, they work through various cases to help them understand how to manage working capital, develop financial projections and analyze financial statements to assess the strength of a business model. 

While these exercises are important, there’s nothing like bringing in your own sales, paying your own expenses and figuring out how to make an actual business thrive and grow. We are actively encouraging our students to engage in these types of activities through programs like our campus-wide elevator pitch competition.

Trend: Besides hoping to start a business, why else do students study entrepreneurship?

Brockman: Studying entrepreneurship can provide a set of skills and the mindset critical for success in corporate business as well as in the entrepreneurial world. Being able to innovate, adapt, recognize opportunities, leverage resources and build successful teams are skills needed everywhere.

Trend: What types of people make good entrepreneurs?

Brockman: True entrepreneurs understand the importance of a good team made up of complementary skillsets and personal characteristics. For example, if the founder of a venture is not good at motivating employees, then they’ll need to find a team member who is. But a few common characteristics of successful entrepreneurs include openness to ambiguity, passion, resilience and adaptability.

Trend: What types of businesses are students interested in creating? How have you seen this shift over time?

Brockman: Many of our students are interested in technology related businesses. Apps are a common idea, although others will develop a business venture with an app or technology element as a component of the model. Others are building ventures that wouldn’t be classified as technology related. For example, one of our current students, Daniel Taylor, has successfully launched a product called the Ladder Levelizer. The Ladder Levelizer fits under the legs of ladders to stabilize them on uneven surfaces.

Andrew Byrum, UTC College of Business 2015 Graduate

“I grew up in Maryville, Tennessee, and from an early age took an interest in cameras and technology. In high school I launched my own production company filming weddings, parties, funerals and more. I continued operating this company until I came to UTC and needed to focus more on my studies.

I started as a computer science major, but ended up changing to entrepreneurship my junior year. During my senior year in the program, I took a class called New Venture Creation. Part of the main curriculum was to come up with an idea and turn it into a company. People really liked my idea of creating an app allowing users to manage restaurant wait times, and Get Seated was born. After the semester ended, we continued on developing the idea. I graduated in May 2015. Now, a year and a half after coming up with the idea, we’ve launched the public beta at Taco Mamacita.”

Trend: How did studying entrepreneurship help you in the real world?

Byrum: It got me out of my shell. I distinctly remember telling a friend before coming up with Get Seated that I would never be able to pitch an idea to a group of people. I've now done many pitches and met amazing people from all over the world.
Studying entrepreneurship helped me develop my pitching skills. I didn't realize it at the time, but life frequently requires you to pitch. You have to be able to communicate an idea to other people in a short amount of time. It doesn't matter where you go or what you do, you have to know how to pitch.

Trend: Why it is important to go to school prior to starting a business instead of just jumping in?

Byrum: This was probably the biggest question I had people ask me when I told them I was majoring in entrepreneurship. I told them that I was learning every aspect of running a business.
Part of being a good leader for your company is being able to communicate with your employees. Learning about accounting, marketing, human resources, etc., has helped me plan accordingly for our future expansion. And, since we are bootstrapping our company, I have to know how to do all those things until we can afford to hire other people.

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