In talking with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I can't tell you how many times I've heard one of them say, “I remember the day that I decided I was going to start my own company,' or ‘That was when I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur.'”
They might have been 10 years old or 50, but entrepreneurs can tell you when that defining moment occurred.
That's why events like the Who Wants to Be an Entrepreneur? workshop can have such an impact on innovation over time.
“What I hope for my students,” says Dr. Karli Peterson, associate professor in the School of Business at East Central University (ECU) in Ada, OK, “is that at some point they will suddenly look around and say, ‘ah ha, this is the time.' Without taking courses in entrepreneurship, that might not ever be on their list of possibilities.”
Dr. Peterson, who teaches four courses in entrepreneurship at ECU, brought 10 ECU students to Who Wants to Be.
“Most of our students are from the region around Ada. They may be first generation college graduates. Many have families and jobs and are fitting their education in with the rest of their lives,” she says. “We want to broaden their horizons to the point where they start looking around on their own.”
Dr. Peterson says that entrepreneurship is a natural for Generation Y.
“These students are more into doing something and seeing the results. They are savvier about what they want in their lives and seek more control of their own destiny,” she says.
“My first words at the beginning of the first class and my last words at the end of the last class are, ‘Keep your eyes open, and remember what you learned in these entrepreneurship classes. They can shape your future,'” Dr. Peterson says. “Who is to say that my student who is 26 today might not turn around at 40 and say, ‘now, now is the time.'”
After a day of the reality of Who Wants to Be, Dr. Peterson's students were a bit shell-shocked, impressed and inspired.
“One of the students who already has his own company was frantically making calls the whole way back to Ada,” she says. “He was really fired up, making his contacts and tracking responses.”
Whether it's at age 20 or age 50, that's the life of an entrepreneur.
DID YOU KNOW? According to research from Duke University, for the last 10 years or so, the average age of U.S.-born technology founders when they started their companies was 39.
Tom Walker is President and CEO of i2E, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation that mentors many of the state's technology-based start-up companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact him at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.