Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on January 9, 2018
Visit a college entrepreneurship fair, and you will interact with students developing the skills of a CEO.
This was my recent experience attending the two-day Startup Fest of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University, the first free-standing, degree-granting school of entrepreneurship in the United States.
Since the Close School of Entrepreneurship was founded five years ago, its faculty has taught some 3,000 students majoring in nearly every course of study from across the university.
At Startup Fest, students from throughout Drexel showcased the businesses they were building. These students are not only learning entrepreneurship skills, but also important skills as the leaders of their fledgling businesses.
These entrepreneurs are honing their elevator pitches, developing business strategies, choosing partners, hiring their first employees, building their teams, raising funds from investors, protecting their intellectual property, choosing channels of distribution and dealing with customers. They also are learning how to de-risk their decisions and manage a P&L statement. These are the skills and responsibilities of all CEOs.
I asked these entrepreneurs to describe the market they were aiming to penetrate, how they would compete with other companies currently in the market, and how they would differentiate their product or service so their business would attract customers. Asking, “Why will people want to buy from you” focuses entrepreneurs on the most important question that will determine the success or failure of their business.
Students starting businesses are learning to be leaders in an environment where their decisions have real consequences — much different than learning from case studies sitting in a classroom. Many graduates do not get the opportunity to lead people or experience these wide range of responsibilities until well into their careers.
Entrepreneurship training teaches you the importance of focus, perseverance and tenacity in pursuing a goal, getting out of your comfort zone, and how to pivot to another course of action when it appears you are proceeding down a dead end. It also teaches how to overcome or go around obstacles.
Future bosses may say “Don’t tell me it can’t be done. Find a way to do it.” You learn to exhaust all possibilities as an entrepreneur before deciding to pivot. One learns how to handle inevitable failure, and how to recover and try again. The adage “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” is true. Mistakes are inevitable. What is important is what you have learned from them.
These students also gain a certain mindset and skills that are useful whether they start a business, work for a startup or work for an established company. A future boss will want to know what they have accomplished in their previous positions. Entrepreneurial skills and mindset will help differentiate them within their current company when going for a promotion or when applying for their next job at a different company.
Starting a business teaches students how to sell their ideas to others, both verbally and through graphical presentations, something all of us will be doing our entire careers, regardless of position within an organization. Entrepreneurship students get real-life feedback on whether their selling skills are effective and can adjust them based on feedback.
Entrepreneurs learn networking skills due to the numerous interactions they have with a variety of people. These skills are critical to career success. Future jobs are most likely come from one’s network, and the ability to effectively expand that network will help one land that next job.
My advice to all college students who someday want to have P&L responsibility and eventually become the CEO of a company: If you can obtain entrepreneurship training, do so. It will differentiate you among your peers, which will make you more attractive to future employers.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.