By Darlene Brannigan Smith, Ph.D.
Dean, Merrick School of Business
In March, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel to explore a partnership opportunity with Ashkelon College, a fast-growing university located in Baltimore’s sister city of Ashkelon, Israel. The trip, funded in part by the Maryland/Israel Development Center and THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, gave me insights into the phenomenon of the entrepreneurship-driven Israeli economy. As chronicled in the book Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, this country with a population of only 7.1 million—a nation in a constant state of war and with no natural resources—has carved out a lucrative niche in high-tech. Indeed, Israel is operating on a par in both scale and caliber with America’s top IT companies. How do they do it?
First, a key fact: Israel spends more on research and development as a percentage of their economy than any other country in the world. It knows how to make that money relevant to young companies. In short, it has actively cultivated a culture of entrepreneurship and leadership.
Entrepreneurship involves more than creating a business. It is about seeking opportunities, taking risks, and having the tenacity to push an idea through to reality. The economic and social influence of entrepreneurs have been shown to make immensely disproportionate contributions to job creation, innovation, and economic renewal, compared with the contributions made by the 500 or so largest companies. Entrepreneurship is the essential mechanism by which countries achieve economic growth and accelerate national competitiveness, whether it’s China, Iceland, India, Israel, Thailand or—the United States.
An economy’s entrepreneurial capacity requires people with the ability and motivation to start businesses. Today, many early-stage entrepreneurs are younger than 34. This means as many as 5.6 million Americans are actively trying to start a business. From where I sit as dean— that looks and sounds like—a lot of positive energy that needs to be captured and leveraged.
Given this upsurge in interest in being a self-starter, it is important to focus on the role of education in developing future entrepreneurs. Yes: entrepreneurship can be taught. For example, the Israelis cultivate entrepreneurship in their schools and in the military. Peter Drucker, recognized as one of the leading management thinkers of our time, has said, “The entrepreneurial mystique? It’s not magic, it’s not mysterious, and it has nothing to do with genes. It’s a discipline…and it can be learned.”
I’m not the first to say that our nation is at a crossroads, and research has shown that populations that embrace innovation will have higher level of entrepreneurial activity. Thus, if we are to continue to lead a global economic revolution and remain secure as a nation, we must recognize how much of our future depends on innovation and cross-border entrepreneurial activities. Entrepreneurship is going global—in some countries, 40 percent of early-stage entrepreneurs expect 25 percent or more of their customers to come from outside the country. Is it even possible to overstate the importance of students having a well-developed global perspective as part of their entrepreneurial and business education? I don’t think so.
American students face competition from places they’ve never been, people they’ve never met. Their skills are challenged, and that challenge is not going to melt away like a conquered foe. Right now, new processes, new standards of best practices, and, of course, new kinds of businesses are being created all around the world. It’s essential that we support the teaching and learning of not only the technical aspects of competitiveness, but also the socioeconomic and political conditions that exist in other countries. That’s a knowledge base—a foundation for developing the capacity to build partnerships and collaborations across borders, and, in turn, an expanded cultural awareness and sensitivity that can help ensure a successful future.
Where does this knowledge go? Everywhere—in international trade, partnered manufacturing, new markets, new ideas, new ways of meeting the horizon. It’s no longer about labels like Third World or First World. The labels matter less than the world’s capacity for working together. Even nations that are struggling to meet basic needs are still open for business.
I am proud to say that entrepreneurship has been at the core of the Merrick School of Business for the last decade. Innovative entrepreneurship programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels have been offered for several years now, and our pedagogy in this area has come to cover all facets of new business, from the generating of ideas to grand opening, from venture financing to business plan development. Our Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center and our nationally recognized partner, the Small Business Development Center, support firms in every stage of the game and in every sector—from social entrepreneurs and family businesses to high-tech start-ups right up to the point where the term “growth” is the happy topic of the day around a participating firm.
Consider our Edward Attman and Mildred Cohen Attman Enterprise Hatchery, which provides fertile ground for emerging entrepreneurs to kick-start their business, or the Leonard and Phyllis Attman Competitive Business Prize, which provides seed money for high-potential start-ups. Soon, you’ll get to know our new certificate in technology commercialization and innovation management, specifically designed for those companies with a stake in high-tech. We take the subject of entrepreneurship very seriously, because it’s serious business.
At the heart of it all, it’s about partnerships. Whether it’s in Peru, Ethiopia or Israel, our students, working with entrepreneurial partners, are the future of American capitalism and American know-how. Let’s support this mindset, and don’t look back.