May 4, 2012/Crain's Detroit Business
By Mike Turner
LANSING — Entrepreneurial degrees, classes, clubs and competitions are on the rise at all 15 Michigan public universities, a development that officials say bodes well for community and economic development, a survey has found.
"It's pretty phenomenal how much has begun happening in a short period of time," said Rob Fowler, CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan and chair of the entrepreneurship committee of the Michigan Sense of Place Council, which released the survey.
"It seems like it's happening all over the state," he said. "Much of it is student-led, but it includes entrepreneurship degrees at the bachelor's and master's level, helping companies in their communities through venture capital funds and incubators, and student clubs and companies."
The Sense of Place Council is a public-private collaborative that supports development of places with a quality of life that attracts talented people and entrepreneurs.
"Small businesses, started by risk takers prepared for major challenges, are vital to any successful community, particularly our downtowns," said Jeffrey Padden, president of Lansing-based Public Policy Associates, which conducted the survey.
"Entrepreneurs can drive the rebirth of Michigan cities, creating the exciting, livable neighborhoods that attract young talent. Universities are doing their part to fill that pipeline."
The survey found that at least 10 Michigan universities have entrepreneurial degree programs. Some have added majors or minors within colleges of business in recent years, while others have expanded course offerings for all students.
Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, noted that the state leaders have pushed universities to create entrepreneurial programs.
"We have professors mentoring entrepreneur clubs, upper-level classes on evaluation risk, university-sponsored incubators and more," he said.
For example, at Michigan State University, the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management's specialization in entrepreneurship combines core business disciplines with experiential assignments in which students work with entrepreneurs to solve real-world problems.
Grand Valley State University is developing a double major in business and entrepreneurship, and Eastern Michigan University's Center for Entrepreneurship provides resources for students starting their own business.
Fowler said such programs are increasingly important as the state moves away from an auto-dependent economy.
"Our universities are now engaged in trying to change the culture," he said. "If students understand that starting your own company some day is an option, as opposed to always going to work for someone else, that's the way you begin to change the mindset and culture."