Colleges and Universities Recognize the Key to Economic Growth
In the 1970s, a mere 200 colleges and universities across the U.S. offered academic courses in entrepreneurship. Today, however, that number has swelled 10 times in size as nearly two-thirds of all colleges and universities are equipped to educate students on new business development. And Brevard County-based academic institutions, including Brevard Community College (BCC) and Florida Institute of Technology, are no exception. Both of these colleges have developed various programs to foster entrepreneurial success.
The Evolution of Entrepreneurship Programs
Brevard Community College
The development of BCC’s entrepreneurship programs began to take shape in 2000 when local entrepreneur and philanthropist Bernie W. Simpkins created the “B.W. Simpkins Seminars for Entrepreneurial Development,” a series of semi-annual speaking engagements that allow successful entrepreneurs to share their personal stories and motivate students throughout the community.
“Mr. Simpkins settled in Brevard County about the time the space program got going,” explains Dr. Joseph P. (Pat) Fuller, the chair of entrepreneurship development at BCC. “As he (Simpkins) tells it, he seldom heard the word ‘entrepreneurship’ back then, but that’s what it was! Later, in the mid-90s, he served on the board of trustees at BCC and decided to do something about this important need for students. He wanted to share his ‘luck’ in becoming a successful entrepreneur by giving back some opportunities for knowledge that he did not have when he started his business… ‘to help fortify the chances for success,’ as he puts it.”
Since its inception, the B.W. Simpkins Seminars for Entrepreneurial Development have hosted many prominent Central Florida entrepreneurs, such as Pat Williams, the senior vice president of the Orlando Magic, as well as nationally recognized entrepreneurs, such as Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, and Don Shula, founder of Don Shula Steakhouse and former Miami Dolphins head coach.
Building On the Momentum
Upon the success of his seminars, Simpkins began supporting $1,000 scholarships offered to students who submit winning essays on new or existing entrepreneurship ideas. In 2009, Simpkins gave an additional endowment to BCC, making him the college’s first $1 million benefactor. Those funds propelled BCC to accelerate the development of full academic entrepreneurship programs, which came to fruition last fall at the college’s Titusville campus.
Today, BCC’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise offers three academic entrepreneurship programs. The first option is a one-year, 25-credit-hour program which, upon completion, will earn the student a Certificate in Entrepreneurship Operations. This program sets the framework for the second option, a two-year, 63-credit-hour program which, upon completion, will earn the student an associate’s degree in entrepreneurship that is transferable to four-year universities. BCC also offers what it calls a “fast-track” program which is designed for experienced business professionals wishing to network with entrepreneurs and update their skill sets.
Florida Institute of Technology
Focusing on a higher-level degree programs, Florida Tech’s Nathan M. Bisk College of Business offers a basic business bachelor’s degree program that provides a broad business foundation to prepare budding entrepreneurs for success.
“The program contains both the business knowledge and a focus on communication and critical thinking skills such that our graduates can be successful in either the corporate environment or in a start-up enterprise,” explains Dr. Robert Niebuhr, who has served as the dean of Florida Tech’s College of Business since 2007. “All of our undergraduates are required to work 10 hours per week during their last semester here in Brevard County, and many of those assignments are with small businesses.”
In addition to the undergraduate business program, Florida Tech also offers a master’s in business administration (MBA) program that puts forward a track with entrepreneurial emphasis, and requires students to complete a new venture business plan that is both technologically feasible and financially viable.
Furthermore, this past year, Florida Tech developed a non-degree entrepreneurship training program for Brevard Workforce to assist in aerospace worker transition efforts. “At last count we have taken over 120 individuals through the non-degree entrepreneurship training program, with about half producing viable business plans. At least 13 are already involved in business start-ups,” says Dr. Niebuhr.
Dr. Niebuhr, who has been involved with creating distance-based academic programs for over 20 years, also helped initiate undergraduate and graduate online business programs at Florida Tech in 2009. These online business programs currently have a student population over 4,000. “This escalation in enrollment probably makes us one of the fastest growing business programs in the country,” he says.
Is “Academic Entrepreneurship” an Oxymoron?
While a debate exists about whether or not successful entrepreneurs can be molded in an academic settings, both Dr. Niebuhr and Dr. Fuller agree that understanding the fundamentals of business development is important, regardless of one’s intrinsic entrepreneurial spirit.
“At the beginning of the entrepreneurship training, we do have individuals look at their motivations and personalities regarding the demands of an entrepreneurial enterprise. While personality and individual traits do have a part in creating new ventures, we also want individuals to focus on paying attention to detail with regard to competitive and market conditions,” explains Dr. Niebuhr. “Someone who is extremely motivated and driven to have their own business must be aware of the financial aspects of creating and managing a business as well.”
“The success of any community is determined by the success of its local businesses. When more businesses occur, not only does the local Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grow, but the region, and indeed the state and country, grows.” – Bernie W. Simpkins
Supporting this point, the U.S. Small Business Administration reports the top reasons new businesses fail in their first five years include lack of experience, insufficient capital, poor location, poor inventory management, over-investments in fixed assets, poor credit arrangements, personal use of business funds and unexpected growth. By providing a solid knowledge and understanding of ways to help avoid these and other financial and marketing pitfalls, academic institutions, such as BCC and Florida Tech, hope to decrease the failure rate of new businesses.
“Continuous learning makes for better economies through better business decisions,” says Dr. Fuller. “Natural talent and gut feelings coupled with unique skills and academic know-how is a good combination.”
The Local Impact
Assuming that local entrepreneurially-focused college graduates apply their acquired knowledge and skills to start new businesses in Brevard County, the effects of could mean increased job growth in our community.
A new study released by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, an organization devoted to promoting entrepreneurial success, analyzed the findings of the U.S. Census Bureau-compiled Business Dynamics Statistics (BDS), a dataset that tracked the annual number of new businesses (startups younger than one year and new locations) launched from 1977 to 2005. The findings revealed that, on average, in their first year, new businesses added three million jobs per year, while existing businesses lost one million jobs net combined per year. Furthermore, the study revealed that while new businesses are pro-cyclical, job growth patterns for these businesses remains more stable during recessionary times than existing businesses.
Because a small business start-up flies below the radar screen, their influence can easily be overlooked. It is however, where these new companies are going, that underscores the real benefit they will have on a community. As Dr. Niebuhr concludes, “The real impact will be the hiring of new employees as these businesses are successful, thus providing a regional impact that should last for years to come.”
Additional Entrepreneurship-Focused Business Degrees Available in Brevard County
The institution’s Melbourne campus offers management and leadership-concentrated undergraduate and graduate business degree programs. Examples of entrepreneurially focused courses offered at Keiser University include Entrepreneurship, Financial Management and Operations Management.
Webster University offers advanced business degrees in classroom and online settings. Students can earn entrepreneurially beneficial graduate degrees in business administration (MBA), as well as management and leadership.
Everest University, formerly Florida Metropolitan University, offers associate and bachelor degrees in applied management, which includes training in finance and small business management, as well as bachelor and master degrees in business administration.