The Impact of Entrepreneurship

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Tuesday, April 9, 2024
By Sharon Shinn
Photo by iStock/Drazen Zigic
How six schools are using entrepreneurship education to reach communities in need and make a measurable difference in the world.
  • In AACSB’s most recent Innovations That Inspire initiative, business schools outline their societal impact activities that align with their missions while addressing concerns in their local communities.
  • Schools described innovations such as a lecture series for Ukrainian refugees, an informational hub for Black business owners, and a program for Chinese entrepreneurs at the base of the pyramid.
  • Through such efforts, business schools are deploying their students’ talent and their faculty’s expertise in ways that lead to lasting real-world change.

Entrepreneurship can bring prosperity to families, communities, and whole nations. What can business schools do to bring entrepreneurship education to the groups that need it most?

That question was answered by a number of schools that participated in AACSB’s 2024 Innovations That Inspire initiative, which recognizes programs that will shape the future of business education. Through a sampling of just a few of their submissions, we show how entrepreneurship education targeted at specific populations can have profound societal impact and change the courses of many lives.

Training for Refugees

The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine not only has killed more than 30,000 Ukrainians, but also has displaced millions of Ukrainian citizens. To provide aid to London-based refugees, the University College London (UCL) School of Management has launched The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs for Ukraine.

Through the free seven-week lecture series, participants gain the skills and knowledge they need to transform business ideas into viable ventures that will help rebuild their country once the war is over. The lecture series was selected by AACSB as a highlighted innovation for 2024.

The initiative came about after the UCL School of Management partnered with other academic institutions in the Academic Sanctuary Scheme to host visiting scholars from Ukrainian universities. The lecture series was developed by Nataliia Hrytsiuk, an associate professor from Lesya Ukrainka Volyn National University, who has researched the best practices in U.K. entrepreneurship. She presented her findings during the first seven lectures, which were held in October and November 2023. Other speakers included Ukrainian entrepreneurs and academics.

In addition to providing examples of successful startups in the U.K., lectures covered the art of forming teams, the tools needed to carry out competitive market analysis, and the strategy behind creating value propositions. At the end of the program, aspiring entrepreneurs could participate in a Pitch Day where finalists competed for monetary prizes.

All lectures were delivered in person and in Ukrainian to break down language and cultural barriers and to maximize networking opportunities. To make it easy for people to attend, events were held in the evening and offered free childcare.

Between lectures, participants received group and individual mentoring from Ukrainian entrepreneurs and UCL faculty. Participants also had access to workshops, UCL’s Innovation and Enterprise free office space, and a system that matched refugees with UCL entrepreneurs. To enhance networking opportunities, events were run with Level 39, a European tech accelerator, and GenUK’s Ukraine program, which is aimed at female entrepreneurs. Students also could take complimentary English language lessons provided by a nongovernmental agency.

Participants who completed the program received certificates of attendance, gained access to GenUK’s Restart Ukraine program, and were eligible to apply to UCL’s Hatchery incubator to receive up to 24 months of support for their new businesses.

For the future, the school plans to offer the lecture series twice a year and is considering an online format to reach refugees outside of London. UCL will invite former participants to return as guest speakers and organize networking opportunities for previous and current participants. The school is considering replicating the program to aid people from other displaced communities.

A Spanish-Language Podcast

According to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Latinos create businesses three times faster than any other group in the United States. Between 2007 and 2012, 86 percent of new small businesses in the U.S. were owned by Latinos. Yet Latino business owners have limited access to capital and other resources: Only 3 percent of America’s 4.7 million Hispanic-owned businesses have achieved more than 1 million USD in sales, and many Latinos lack reliable access to high-speed internet services.

One resource that could remove barriers for Latino entrepreneurs? Education. To meet this need, the Jack C. Massey College of Business at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, created the Latino Emprendedor Podcast. (Emprendedor means “entrepreneur.”) Four podcasts were produced last year, and more are in the works.

The podcasts are delivered in Spanish by two co-hosts who have deep roots in both the business and the Latino communities. José González is an entrepreneur and an associate professor of entrepreneurship and management at Belmont College. He established a Nashville-based Spanish-language entrepreneurial training program called Negocio Próspero. Co-host Frank González is managing director of Crown Solutions Spanish at the global financial literacy ministry Crown Financial Ministries and has held roles with other organizations devoted to the development of Latin American leaders.

The two men discuss topics that include developing an entrepreneurial mindset, understanding the difference between an idea and an opportunity, launching a business, and dealing with failure. The goal of the podcasts is to empower listeners to solve problems, innovate their businesses, and create a positive impact on their surrounding communities.

A Platform for Black Entrepreneurs

COVID-19 had a devastating effect on many small businesses. In Canada, where a significant proportion of such enterprises are owned by Black entrepreneurs, the pandemic also shone a spotlight on an uncomfortable truth: Black business owners face systemic barriers that include discrimination, lack of access to capital and networks, and unconscious biases.

In response, the Federal Government of Canada has provided 400 million CAD (approximately 296 million USD) to fund the Black Entrepreneurship Program. One of the program’s three pillars is the Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (BEKH), a platform that brings together Black entrepreneurs, not-for-profit organizations, community organizations, academic institutions, and researchers.

Launched in December 2021, BEKH provides research and statistics about Black entrepreneurs, the businesses they are engaged in, and the resources they need to grow sustainably. This research can inform policies and programs aimed at promoting Black entrepreneurship.

BEKH is co-led by the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, and the Dream Legacy Foundation, a Toronto-based philanthropic organization that works with underrepresented groups. BEKH was selected by AACSB as a highlighted innovation for 2024.

The knowledge platform consists of a central hub supported by regional hubs across the country, each one headed by a postsecondary institution. The hubs work with community organizations, an advisory board, and a research advisory committee to prioritize the unique needs of various regions.

In its first year, BEKH established six regional hubs and research platforms, secured additional funding for development and growth, and initiated a community-led symposium for idea creation. It also actively engaged with community-serving organizations and national bodies, including Statistics Canada, the Business Development Bank of Canada, and Export Development Canada.

In the coming year, BEKH plans to undertake three large-scale national studies to create a better understanding of Black entrepreneurship in Canada. A quantitative study will produce numerical data around Black entrepreneurship; a qualitative study will generate personas that use storytelling techniques to explain the experiences of Black business owners; and an ecosystem mapping project will create a geographic map of Black entrepreneurs to foster visibility and promote connections. The goal is to create a more equitable business environment that enables Black entrepreneurs to thrive.

Education to Eradicate Poverty

The School of Management at Guangdong University of Technology in China is dedicated to achieving one of the key aims of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: ending poverty. To that end, in 2009, the school debuted a three-part responsible management education framework called “From Classrooms to Fields.”

One component of that framework is a focus on entrepreneurship at the base of the pyramid (BoP). While students are introduced to a variety of diverse entrepreneurship initiatives, they are encouraged to develop innovations that will serve BoP populations and keep people out of poverty.

One success story comes from Che Zhou. As a student in 2014, he explored ways to help herb farmers in the western mountainous areas of China. He set up an e-commerce trading platform that involves more than 3,000 herb providers, which accounts for 12 percent of the trading volume of bulk traditional Chinese herbs sold in the region. More than 50 students from the college have participated in this endeavor. Che Zhou’s efforts have resulted in an average income increase of 4,170 RMB (about 580 USD) for each of the participating farmers.

The School of Management aims to reduce poverty in two additional ways:

  • By weaving sustainable development principles into the curriculum. Students learn theories of social responsibility through required courses on sustainability and green e-commerce, modules on sustainable development that are included in other courses, and off-site opportunities to see sustainable development in action. Faculty are encouraged to develop sustainability-related cases, some of which are collected into national management case databases for other schools to use.
  • By motivating faculty and students to join charitable endeavors. Students must earn two credits by engaging in a minimum of 20 hours of philanthropic work per semester. They are encouraged to participate in the social responsibility activities of two student clubs, and faculty are urged to act as advisors to such organizations. In addition, the school provides monetary support to two primary schools in the remote mountainous region of Guangdong Province.

Through these efforts, the school encourages students to embrace social responsibility, blend commercial and societal interests, and create sustainable value.

Community Opportunities

Several business schools have created initiatives aimed at bringing entrepreneurship education to underserved populations in their own neighborhoods, and they described their efforts in submissions to this year’s Innovations That Inspire.

One example comes from the College of Business and Economics at Towson University in Baltimore, which has partnered with Cristo Rey Jesuit High School to teach basic entrepreneurship skills to financially disadvantaged ninth-graders. During the four-week Cristo Rey Leadership Foundations Program, young students learn the concepts of entrepreneurship and gain experience developing ventures designed to solve real-world problems.

Speakers include entrepreneurs who hail from Cristo Rey’s own community. In addition, student interns from the College of Business—some of them alums of Cristo Rey—act as mentors and guides for teams of high school students.

Since the program launched two years ago, 135 Cristo Rey students have been exposed to the world of entrepreneurship, and two have joined Towson’s StarTUp accelerator. The College of Business has received grant money from U.S.-based company State Farm Insurance to continue the program, and it has become a resource for other area high schools that want to replicate its model.

A second example comes from the Else School of Management at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. About 14 years ago, the school launched the ELSEWORKS entrepreneurship program, dedicated to revitalizing Midtown, a nearby socioeconomically challenged inner city community. Led by faculty, staff, and alumni, the program functions like a business consultancy to provide Midtown businesses with assistance in areas such as strategy, accounting, market research, and event planning.

Since 2011, Millsaps students have provided consulting services to two incubators in Midtown; helped develop two community gathering spaces—a coffee shop and a beer garden; secured funds for three Midtown businesses; organized a quarterly event for business owners; and provided other support. About 160 Millsaps students have served as ELSEWORKS business analysts and roughly 400 students have worked on classroom projects that provided solutions to Midtown businesses.

The impact has been measurable: According to a study conducted by ELSEWORKS students, the number of assets in the neighborhood—consisting of houses, businesses, and properties in suitable living conditions—increased by 74 percent over 10 years. At the same time, students have seen firsthand how community engagement links to economic development.

‘Entrepreneurship as Survival’

Anita Roddick, social entrepreneur and founder of The Body Shop, once said, “Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that’s exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking.”

Today’s business schools—and the populations they serve through entrepreneurship education—would clearly agree.

All submissions to AACSB's Innovations That Inspire program are collected in DataDirect for members to explore for additional insights and inspiration.

Sharon Shinn
Editor, AACSB Insights
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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