One of the things that we hear a lot about in the economic development community is the importance of small business and entrepreneurship. A majority of jobs get created by small business, to say nothing about how many new products and innovations get launched that way as well. Here in Washington state, we’re great at entrepreneurship, with one of the highest rates of business starts per capita…except that we also have one of the highest rates of business failures per capita.
We’ve done a lot of research on that topic, and there are several reasons why those stats are somewhat misleading (for example, the high percentage of seasonal businesses…like farming…that get created and then close on purpose each year). And there’s issues with the B&O as a tax on businesses in the “valley of death” (pre-profitable, yet forced to pay a gross revenues tax). But it’s also true that successfully starting and running a business is hard, and there’s not actually a lot of resources out there to prepare you for it.
I’m not talking about organizations that provide technical assistance to small businesses, of which there are many. I’m talking about the education system. I happened to come across this announcement about a new graduate certificate in entrepreneurship, and my first thought wasn’t “Oh good, a solution,” but rather “too little, too late.”
The real need for those classes is not in a separate, later-stage program, or even in standard business school classes, but rather incorporated into the curriculum of undergraduate and graduate STEM degrees. Getting a BA in computer science? You need to take CSE 237 – “Entrepreneurship for start up computer science companies.” Getting a Master in Bioengineering? You’ll be seeing a lot of Professor Start-up and his cadre of guest lecturers from the biotech community. Is everyone getting a STEM degree going to start their own business? Hopefully not, because we need innovative, entrepreneurial people in our major companies too (when was the last time you didn’t hear someone criticize a big corporation for not being innovative and entrepreneurial enough?).
I know that a lot of universities are already doing this, or at least seriously discussing it, but the sooner the better. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see that Washington state business failure rate decline because of it.