How to Build an Entrepreneurial Foundation

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Three professors set the stage for gaining entrepreneurial skills

How do people gain the skills and knowledge they need to start an entrepreneurial venture? Or become an innovative and entrepreneurial thinker and doer within an existing organization?

Three U-M faculty teach a pair of courses that make up the building blocks of an entrepreneurial education — one that is becoming more vital to the future success of graduates around the globe. The two courses, ES 212 and UC 270, attract students who are just discovering entrepreneurship, as well as those who have already started a venture. Above all they have one thing in common: the desire to make an impact.

“If you came to the University of Michigan for your education, you probably expect to make a positive impact on the world. And if you aren’t expecting it, we’re expecting it from you,” said professor Erik Gordon of the Zell Lurie Institute at the Ross School of Business, who teaches ES 212: Entrepreneurial Business Basics. “To make a significant impact, you’re going to have to act entrepreneurially. Maybe by starting a company, a social venture, or a nonprofit. Maybe you don’t start anything, but wherever you are you’re probably going to have to think entrepreneurially and act entrepreneurially.”

Both core entrepreneurship courses in the minor in entrepreneurship offer just that. Whether a student of history, art, engineering, or business, it doesn’t matter. These courses provide opportunities for students from any background to think and act entrepreneurially.


According to professor Gordon, some students in his ES 212 course know that they will be entrepreneurs. Some have even already started companies of some kind. Others are not so sure what it means, or at least what it means to them.

“One student majoring in voice performance at School of Music, Theatre and Dance will use their entrepreneurial outlook, skills and tools to do something entrepreneurial and make an impact in their world,” he said. “There isn’t a symphony or chorale in the country without the need for entrepreneurship if they are going to be around in the next 20 years.”

In ES 212 students learn the basics of entrepreneurship. Professor Gordon operates under the assumption that Michigan students are smart, curious, and ready to work hard. He covers a lot of topics to get students up and running including, how to create and spot an opportunity, how to assess whether the opportunity is worth the time, and how to go from an idea to implementation.

He also teaches students the basics of finance, accounting, SEO, marketing, and legal topics. All necessary skills to an entrepreneur.

Students can expect a combination of mini lectures and free-wheeling discussions where they “co-produce the knowledge” by discussing real-world case studies.

The key, according to Gordon, is context. He shares stories from real experiences gained over the course of decades, and students see how important it is to pay attention to context. “All of us tend to give little weight to context and instead attribute things to rock solid universal principles,” says Gordon.

Professor Eric Svaan also teaches entrepreneurial business basics, where he focuses on the importance of business planning and presentations. Students are assigned to teams and must develop an idea for a product, create a plan, and turn it into something that adds value.

Svaan stresses the importance of economics and challenges students to “think about the value we place on things in the world.”

“This course draws in bright people from various backgrounds, which leads to creative ideas and, often, a better way of doing things,” says Svaan.

Students work through a series of business basics that prepare them for the challenges in a startup, plus they learn where to find the answers when challenges arise.

In UC 270: Entrepreneurial Creativity, faculty lecturer Eric Fretz focuses on creativity as one of the core components of the entrepreneurial process, approaching it from the discipline of psychology.  “The course deliberately avoids much of the “startup/business skill” content covered so well in so many other courses, and instead students are assisted in developing their own working definition of creativity, taking into consideration many related or component terms,” said Eric Fretz.

Students learn about creativity at the individual level, reviewing and taking personal assessments on topics like: Intelligence, Expertise, Big5 personality traits, Divergent Thinking, EQ, MBTI, and grit.  

“We seek to get a solid understanding of these concepts and see how they inter-relate around and through the process of creativity.  Students then review research and themes related to encouraging and maximizing creativity while working in groups.  Finally, the course addresses the issue of team leadership, and the unique issues that arise when leading creative teams in particular,” says Fretz.

According to Fretz, creativity is about working with the unique set of tools and expertise whatstudents3each person brings to the table, and doing that well is essential to being a successful entrepreneur.

“Everyone comes together and dumps their bucket of parts on the table. They can see all the parts are different and it’s those different ideas that can sometimes spark the connections that are the catalyst for coming up with something new,” he says.

“While students might go on to get a basic job within a company, it’s still valuable to be innovative — they’re more likely to be hired, retained and promoted. This course helps them approach general challenges in life, focus and foster team skills, work with people different than them, and be innovative.”


Comments (1)
  • Marsha Kelly

    March 17, 2017

    Both courses sound excellent real-world training for the next generation of America’s successful entrepreneurs. You are correct that entrepreneurial skills are essential for both employees and business owners. To learn how to think like an entrepreneur will help people get hired more easily, keep those jobs and become promoted. I know as I have seen it happen in corporate America.

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