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Why universities should encourage student entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is essential preparation for graduates to tackle society’s most pressing issues.

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Josemaria Silvestrini's avatar

Josemaria Silvestrini

April 5 2016
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Bill Aulet, managing director of the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, says that entrepreneurship is fundamentally about having control over one’s destiny. The only way to control your destiny is to create it. A cliché, I know, but one that holds true, more so now than ever before. Our modern, global economy and our technological progress mean we are all inextricably interconnected, in the way that we live and in the problems we face. My generation is unique in that we are the generation that has been tasked with addressing some of our most pressing environmental and social problems. For us to undertake such a monumental task, however, it is imperative that we are endowed with the skills and resources needed to systematically identify and address our problems.

I am aware that a desire to solve the crises of the world isn’t at the core of every student on every campus, and that’s OK. I do believe, however, that on every campus there are students for whom such a desire is an inseparable aspect of their personality. And there are students whose desires would be stoked if only they had the resources on hand to further develop these passions.

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In the preceding decades, stories of enormously successful entrepreneurs have become sufficiently well known that their stories serve as sources of inspiration and excitement to many aspiring entrepreneurs, excitement that adds to the overall mythos and energy of the entrepreneurial world. With so many possibilities, enthusiasms and passions wrapped up in the entrepreneurial sphere, it is no small wonder why every campus is not already awash in cultures of entrepreneurship and innovation.

The entrepreneurial skill set is an invaluable one that allows individuals inside and outside an organisation to act as catalysts for progress. It is a skill set based on teamwork, creativity and the creation of financial stability. It is a skill set, however, that cannot be learned in one go, which is why I suspect it has yet to fully permeate our campuses.

The entrepreneurial skill set is best learned through experience. This is why I advocate not for more entrepreneurship classes, but rather for the devotion of more resources and energy to the formation of entrepreneurial environments, which will help to create cultures of innovation, on our undergraduate campuses. At our young, malleable age we must take advantage of our youth, our energy and the willingness of others to help us.

At institutions where such things do not yet exist, it is imperative that there be strong administrative and student support for these goals as well as a clear vision that understands the need for long-term thinking and patience. Environmental cultures and ecosystems are not built in a day. With such leadership in hand, a community of students with passions for business and innovation must be cultivated. Whether this is accomplished by coalescing the diverse interest groups already on campus or by exposing more students to these areas of interest, it is important for there to be a core team to spearhead the new initiatives necessary to achieve these goals.

From there it becomes a series of steps towards broadening the community and helping students engaged in entrepreneurial activities to learn this extremely beneficial skill set. One of the most effective ways I envision doing this is by creating school-wide challenges and competitions. This would challenge students to solve a problem just outside their reach and motivate them to attempt a solution through a worthwhile incentive. This would drive students to surpass their limits. Throughout the competition, there would be speakers, hackathons and hands-on mentorships that would provide students with the skills they need to solve the challenge and to be successful entrepreneurs in the future.

Let us believe that we will be successful in teaching our students these skills and bringing about these cultural changes, what then? The objective is to expand and create communities of lifelong learners with entrepreneurial skill sets who are impassioned to go and make their mark on the world; to facilitate the development of individuals in all sectors of society who are able to join the global community of people working to create positive change in the world. Whether students choose to go into public, private or non-profit work makes no difference, so long as their skills are applied in a constructive way. After all, opportunity is the universal language. Entrepreneurship is what I hope will break down barriers, both domestic and foreign, to the formation of a global community of problem-solvers. Hopefully with an enlarged and ever-expanding group of thinkers and entrepreneurs, opportunities will abound for our generation to better shape the course of our common destiny and solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Josemaria is a first-year at Williams College. He is very passionate about sustainability and entrepreneurship. He is the representative for all environmental groups on campus, and he plans on constructing his own major at Williams with the ultimate intent being to start a company in the energy space.

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