Teaching Entrepreneurship

Jul 11, 2005

I recently accepted a more permanent position at The Walton College of Business, part of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. My role is teaching entrepreneurship classes to undergraduates, as well as promoting our entrepreneurship offerings to other colleges within the university. It’s going to be a lot of fun for me, a 47-year-old guy who thinks about business constantly and who likes to talk. My goal is to change lives. That may sound too lofty as the instructor of a couple three-hour courses in business, but that’s my goal just the same. My primary message to these students— mostly business students, but some are from other colleges (including architecture and engineering)— is that they don’t need to just take the best of the crappy jobs they find upon graduation. There is another alternative: Owning their own businesses. To do that, however, they need to be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices it takes to be successful. That, translated, pretty simply can be stated as long hours and low pay UNTIL you really get things going. Those two things don’t appeal to a lot of younger people— understandably. Those who feel this way probably should get a job. The other point I try to make is that they must have a total passion for their venture. If they can only think of questions and have no answers for those questioning them on matters such as “Why this business?” or “What’s going to make you succeed?”, then they probably shouldn’t go into the business. To illustrate these points, I like to get guest speakers in who have done it. That means entrepreneurs who started their own firms and made it happen. Last semester, I was fortunate enough to have Harrison French, an area architect and developer (and Zweig Letter reader, of course!), who has been fabulously successful building his 70-person firm out of nothing, by focusing his business, taking a stand on things he’s passionate about, being able to delegate and let go of certain aspects of his firm, and getting active in the community. Harrison also branched out and got into some pretty unique development projects— office buildings with high-quality apartments that rent by the night on the top floor. I also had guest speaker named SuLauren Perry, owner of Spark Designs, a retail fashion and accessory boutique. SuLauren is interesting because she was a newly minted U of A graduate with a degree in French who started her own successful business with no formal business training and only $30K at the ripe old age of 23. She told of how she plans to have five stores in the near future and has no monetary goals beyond just doing it. She also described how she used her network of friends for everything from graphic design to accounting advice. Her advice was to know your market and make sure your offerings match the market you are targeting. She also warned of the dangers of getting your business and personal overhead too high too early. Is that ever applicable to satellite offices in A/E and environmental firms! The bottom line is there’s no better way to communicate what entrepreneurs do than to have the entrepreneurs tell you themselves. The same lessons are out there in our business. Look to the SUCCESSFUL companies and how they are doing it today, not just any firm that has been around a long time. Originally published 7/11/2005

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.