Linda Muir is no stranger to the world of start-up business. As the Director of Inst. New Enterprise at Westminster College, she spends every day feeding her passion of helping students and small business owners achieve their dream-to-success in entrepreneurship. We had the opportunity to sit down with Linda and discuss her business development endeavors on campus. While she made many keen observations during the course of conversation, perhaps the most profound is her belief that “students today are innately more entrepreneurial”.
Due to the likely effects of recent economic and technological factors, Linda believes young people now want to control their destiny in a way older generations could not. This desire often conflicts with parents’ natural inclination to push their offspring in “safe” directions like medicine or law, or any other industry with a somewhat defined job trajectory. She explains that the problem with this belief is that the business world is not as “safe” as it once was. “Corporate America is downsizing”, making traditional job security less attainable. In an act of rebellion, survival, preference, or perhaps a combination of the three, students are now actively defying the career route and advice of their parents in pursuit of more self-dependent ventures. This paradigm is further reinforced every time a new CEO position is born before the age of 35, a more common phenomenon that was once more of a pipe dream for older generations spending their entire lives climbing the complete corporate ladder.
Though she sees student business plans of great variety, most include or have an element of the moment’s big buzz word: social entrepreneurship. “Our youth want to solve today’s most plaguing social problems” -- a goal that is overwhelmingly compassionate and admirable. However, she has found that somehow, someway, it has been instilled in her students that big corporations are incapable of contributing and accomplishing this end goal. “Students think that their companies have to be a small non-profit to actually do good." She believes this is a mistake. While for-profit businesses do have a more bureaucratic disadvantage, there are many opportunities to be entrepreneurial and solve big problems. Students will be able to use their budding enterprise muscles no matter what business size or capacity is available to them. In this sense, entrepreneurship isn’t just the process of starting a business, it’s a way of life.
HOW TO PREPARE:
While an innate entrepreneurial spirit is a good foundation, extra preparation and education definitely has a place. However, Linda hints that an entrepreneurship or business degree isn’t a cure-all. “Theory is what’s taught in school and it is no good. It doesn’t teach students how to practically do.” For this reason, she believes the best way for students to prepare is to do real projects or competitions for real companies -- “preferably flawed companies.” Students need the field experience because real business problems aren’t as black and white as the problems and case studies in their textbooks. “Businesses just face way more variables than a piece of text could ever adequately explain.“ Linda suggests that what undergraduate programs should really be utilized for is development of soft skills like public speaking, networking, writing, relationship management, and observation. “Observation is power!” In her position on campus, this is one of her favorite mantras. Students approach her repeatedly about the step after the business plan: investors. “Every time, I send them to a local angel meeting where 5-8 other entrepreneurs are pitching. It’s not until these meetings that my students realize how much more they haven’t thought through yet; they are always so glad they learned what to expect before!”
Fortunately, there is an infinite amount of material at our disposal. Even television has picked up a slew of entrepreneurial-focused programming including Shark Tank, The Profit, and The Mentor, among others. Prepare and soak up as much as you can. Then in Linda’s parting words, just “go out and do it”. That after all, is the most valuable thing that makes all the difference.
(Angel groups are organized all across the US, you can find one near you at www.gust.com.)