Are our educational systems producing enough entrepreneurs?
I'm mindful that the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and many other of the state's fine colleges and universities now have outstanding entrepreneurship programs, but that's a pretty narrow funnel for producing entrepreneurs in the numbers we need.
We have conferences, competitions and awards that promote entrepreneurship across the broader community, but it seems to me that the vast majority of our students have the mindset of going to work for a big corporation versus starting their own business and building personal wealth that way.
The only way we can build our economy of the future is through innovation. Innovation comes from entrepreneurs.
We must figure out more ways to cultivate entrepreneurial thinking earlier in our students. We need to produce a healthy number of graduates that are not so focused on working for someone else.
We can start by being clear about the rewards that can come from successful entrepreneurship.
For example, Oklahoma's Donald W. Reynolds Governor's Cup and subsequent Tri-State competition show college and graduate students not only the hands-on how of entrepreneurship, but the why, with significant tangible financial awards worth more than $250,000 in cash, plus additional opportunities in scholarships.
We can also create interesting opportunities that draw students into the kinds of study that contribute to innovation.
STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is critical for all students, as is business and liberal arts education for majors in science and math. Oklahoma has created state-level incentives for students to become engineers. We could broaden that to include science and math.
Pushing entrepreneurial programs down into our high schools would give an earlier start to our students thinking differently about what entrepreneurship offers them. Entrepreneurship is best learned not from books and lectures but from doing and hearing real-life success stories from entrepreneurs.
But at the end of the day, it's not so much another specific program Oklahoma needs. Rather, we should direct our collective intention and focus on encouraging our state's young people toward entrepreneurship as a career path to future satisfaction and wealth.
We need to consider daily whether there is more we could be doing to grow the state's next crop of entrepreneurs. It's true that what we hold important is typically what we accomplish.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state's technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
DID YOU KNOW?
Women have been starting businesses at a higher rate than men for the past 20 years and are anticipated to create more than half of the 9.72 million new small business jobs expected by 2018.