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Practical Entrepreneurship At Johns Hopkins University

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Lessons from Entrepreneurship Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1005.1 - 10.1005.7

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Paper Authors

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John Wierman

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Lawrence Aronhime

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Introduction Innovation and entrepreneurship drive the capitalist process, which in turn depends upon individuals willing to take a chance.1 As Howard Stevenson wrote, entrepreneurs are promoters, focused on opportunity, regardless of the resources controlled.2 Innovation can be an uncertain, even irrational act, where entrepreneurs endeavor to enter markets that may not exist with products that may not answer market needs, where traditional analytical tools are not likely to be useful, and where the odds of success are dim. The willingness to take a chance, to innovate and be an entrepreneur, requires two factors: “motivation, defined as market incentives to innovate; and ability, defined as the capability to obtain resources, craft them into products and services, and offer those products and services to customers.”3 Innovation over the long term demands that organizations harness individual creativity and market discipline to the resources they control.4 The question confronting educators in entrepreneurship programs is how to help students gain the confidence and skills to actually take a chance.

So how does a student become an innovator and entrepreneur? Is it something that can be learned and taught? Or are entrepreneurs born, and thus in some sense beyond the reach of the educational framework? Robert Hisrich has summarized the current research as follows: “Although there are personal characteristics and skills frequently present in successful entrepreneurs – such as leadership traits, creativity, opportunism, and intuition – so far no unique combination of traits, experiences, and acquired skills differentiates a successful entrepreneur from an unsuccessful one, or even from a manager.”5 Nonetheless, successful entrepreneurs are more likely to have had mentors at an early stage in life, more likely to have had work experience, and more likely to have had entrepreneurial experience in prior ventures.6 In addition, an overwhelming percentage of ideas for successful new ventures originated in prior work experience.7

Rather than focus on the attributes of entrepreneurs, Amar Bhidé in his book The Origin and Evolution of New Businesses, distinguishes five types of new ventures based on the nature of the opportunities they pursue, the degree of uncertainty they face, and the strategies they employ: marginal, promising, VC-backed, revolutionary, corporate.8 Marginal ventures are niche businesses where the founders “have little prospect of attaining significant size or profitability.”9 They are typical of small service opportunities where the business concept is not novel and the return to the proprietors is rarely more than the opportunity cost of their time. By contrast, promising ventures, while similar to marginal ones in their initial small investment and size, are marked by their entry into uncertain markets and the ability of the founders to adapt rapidly to circumstances, to persuade resource providers to take a chance on them, and to quickly generate revenue.10

Marginal and promising new ventures are likely to be the core of any educational program in the practice of entrepreneurship. While many students will always focus on personal niche businesses, the innovative activities of major research universities should also provide opportunities for promising new businesses. Innovation and entrepreneurship are encouraged where there are porous borders among researchers in basic and applied sciences, tech transfer offices, resource providers, and entrepreneurs.11 An entrepreneurship program can take advantage of these porous borders by providing students with opportunities to explore the commercialization of new technologies, thereby gaining both managerial skills and entrepreneurial experiences, all within the mentoring, low-risk environment of a university program. These are the goals we have set for ourselves at Johns Hopkins.

Wierman, J., & Aronhime, L. (2005, June), Practical Entrepreneurship At Johns Hopkins University Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon.

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