Almost all entrepreneurship programs recognize the value of hands-on experience, whether it’s developing a strategic plan, participating in a student venture accelerator, or establishing a new business right on campus. This year, The Princeton Review conducted 200 interviews with current faculty, administrators, and alumni at 50 schools and enlisted the feedback of current students about the campus experiences that gave them opportunities to apply their classroom knowledge to authentic, real-world situations.
Below we spotlight five Top Colleges for Entrepreneurship offering unique hands-on opportunities for undergraduates.
1. Babson College (Babson Park, MA)
At Babson, starting your own business is part of the first-year curriculum. In the Foundations of Management (FME) course, student teams of 10 are loaned $3,000 by the university to launch their own businesses under the tutelage of two dedicated faculty members. Students learn the ins and outs of entrepreneurship, marketing, accounting, organizational behavior, information systems, and operations, as well as the integrated role these functions have within a company. The program attracts many students to the college, including alumnus Ross Beyeler, the founder of Growth Spark, who was “immediately hooked” on the idea of starting a business his first year.
Each team donates all profits (and 80 hours of their time) to local community service agency such as Habitat for Humanity or the Boys and Girls Club (more than $460,000 has been donated by FME business since 1999). The value of this award-winning course is clear. Dr. Candida Brush, chair of the Entrepreneurship Division at Babson, explains, “Because of this signature learning experience, our freshmen are ‘changed’ because they have entrepreneurial skills by the end of their second semester.”
2. Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA)
Lehigh’s newest student accelerator facility (joining two others on campus) is based in a truly spectacular location. At the Mountaintop Project, housed inside a factory relic of industrial-age titan Bethlehem Steel, students across disciplines are offered near complete academic freedom—without the constraints of assignments, grades, or a pre-set curriculum—to investigate problems and come up with their own innovative solutions. Old distillery vats have been repurposed for an aquaponics system; 3D printers build limb prosthetics for children; and outside, students build mud huts to seek solutions to indoor air pollution.
For 10 weeks in the summer, the LaunchBayC Student Accelerator supports pre-seed funding startups, with undergraduate tracks for rising sophomores and those interested in bioinnovation and sustainable development. The program’s focus is on “the creativity, ideation, design, prototyping, and feasibility components of the accelerator process,” according to the University. Accepted projects receive a startup stipend of up to $4,500 and feedback from a team of experienced entrepreneurs and investors.
3. Northeastern University (Boston, MA)
Northeastern hosts an impressive array of entrepreneurship initiatives, but students tell us that one program in particular is making a big difference for a lot of undergraduates. “Northeastern alumni are innovators and entrepreneurs.” alumnus Karim Sabbidine says, “Through the help of IDEA, Northeastern’s campus accelerator, many students have launched their own businesses and watched them flourish financially and socially.”
Demonstrating how seriously Northeastern takes feedback and suggestions from students, IDEA exists because in 2009 six undergraduates went to the dean of the business school and said that Northeastern entrepreneurs needed support. Since then the student-run accelerator has provided more than half a million dollars in non-equity funding and helped launch thirty companies. The program provides students from across the university, as well as alumni and faculty, “with coaching, mentoring, and structured gap funding to help make them investment ready for professional investors,” according to the university. It currently has 170 active ventures in its portfolio.
Some of the potential benefits include up to $1,000 in prototype funding; support from a newly launched Mentoring Network; access to an investor network that has helped students connect with angel investors and venture capital; and service partners that provide legal, accounting, marketing, and backend services.
4. University of Dayton (Dayton, OH)
Hands-on programs run out of University of Dayton’s School of Business have undergraduates making major decisions in everything from running campus businesses to investing millions of dollars of the University’s endowment. Flyer Enterprises (FE) is a network of ten businesses across campus that are entirely student-run, meaning undergraduates are responsible for everything from hiring and firing to purchase orders and market research. With origins as a student coffee shop business, “Flyer Enterprises was founded to answer a bigger question: where else on campus are there opportunities for student operated businesses?” according to UD. Each year, FE’s strategic team conducts an opportunity recognition process, identifying potential new opportunities to pursue.
Today, the ArtStreet Café, The Blend (the original coffee shop), and FE Storage and the other business divisions generate annual revenues of over $1.3 million. Dr. Deborah Bickford, who sits on the university administration-run Board of Directors, tells us, “They’ve learned things in the classroom, and they’ve applied them beyond the classroom. But there is no textbook in the world that can prepare you for the types of things that happen in life.”
Not every enterprise succeeds either, which is another lesson. “The students in this business have more than one product. One is that they have to provide a service and make a profit. But another product is the learning experience they get,” Dr. Bickford says.
5. University of Michigan -- Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)
Innovate Blue is the UM umbrella for entrepreneurial activities that take place all across the university such as in Ross School of Business, the School of Information in LSA, the College of Engineering and beyond. If you have a great idea, then the Center for Entrepreneurship, with a home base in the College of Engineering, will help you make it a reality. A popular “Ask an Entrepreneur” program puts students in a room, one-on-one, with entrepreneurs who can talk about their career paths, give advice, and help undergraduates connect with the right people in their area.
For students a little further along, the Center offers one-on-one startup advising. The Center also offers what they call “innovation training.” Startup Treks, for instance, take students away from Ann Arbor to get a feel for the entrepreneurial landscape in another community. During a recent trek to Detroit, about an hour from campus, students interacted with startups and tech companies as well as met with Michigan alumni in the area.
The school says, “Treks are not for the passive, the tired, or the uninspired: they are intense immersions into the cultures, companies, and communities, that ignite innovation. They are platforms from which students can launch relationships with potential investors, professionals, executives, leaders and peers.”
Annual competitions on campus like 1000 Pitches, the Michigan Business Challenge, MHacks, or Entrepalooza Symposium help to get the creative juices flowing.