How to Train Game-Changers

Entrepreneurs make things happen by filling a niche in the marketplace. Edward Stringham wants to really make things happen—by creating lots of entrepreneurs.

Stringham, a professor at North Carolina’s Fayetteville State University, noticed a void: an absence of professors trained in the principles of entrepreneurship. There appears to be just one other program in the UNC system with a terminal degree in entrepreneurship, and it is a narrow one. UNC-Chapel Hill offers a Ph.D. in business administration with a concentration in strategy and entrepreneurship. It seems to emphasize management strategy courses rather than provide a broad consideration of the environment that spawns entrepreneurs.

While college entrepreneurship programs are proliferating rapidly (it’s estimated that two-thirds of all business schools have at least one entrepreneurship course), there isn’t a big pipeline of professors to teach them. To train Ph.D. students to teach such courses, Stringham is proposing a doctoral program at Fayetteville State. Stringham holds the Lloyd V. Hackley Endowed Chair for Capitalism and Free Enterprise Studies in the university’s business school, which would house the program.

To get the ball rolling, Stringham held a two-day seminar this month at Fayetteville State on how to create an “ideal” Ph.D. program in entrepreneurship. Seventeen people from around the country, many of whom have had long careers in academia and business, attended. Among the participants were Dwight R. Lee, economist at Southern Methodist University known for his essays defending markets, Theodore Malloch of Yale University, coauthor of Renewing American Culture: The Pursuit of Happiness (the basis of a PBS documentary), Arthur Langer, academic director of an executive master’s program at Columbia University, and Douglas B. Rasmussen, philosophy professor at St. John’s University, to mention a few. (A full list of participants is provided at the end of this article.)

They grappled with such questions as whether the entrepreneurial mindset can be taught at all (or is it something you are born with?) and the extent to which a Ph.D. program in entrepreneurship should include discussion of larger issues, such as the morality of capitalism and the kind of environment that fosters entrepreneurship. Should such a program survey the history of writing about entrepreneurs, which seems to have started with the 17th century writer Richard Cantillon? And what exactly is the link between economics and entrepreneurship?

The discussions were kicked off by a series of readings ranging from popular media articles to in-depth academic research. For example, one reading was a response by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, to economist Milton Friedman’s claim that the social responsibility of business is to make a profit. Mackey says that his company serves employees and the community, not just shareholders; on the other hand, he doesn’t clearly differ from Friedman because those efforts have contributed heartily to Whole Foods’ profits.

Another reading was a scholarly Journal of Economic Literature paper by economist Israel Kirzner. It explained that the Austrian School of economics places entrepreneurship within the framework of economics, something that the prevailing paradigm, neoclassical economics, fails to do.

Two of the readings discussed the market for professors of entrepreneurship. In 2003, a task force of the Academy of Management cited “growing demand for faculty in entrepreneurship“ and a 2012 survey by a Gonzaga University professor Todd A. Finkle found that demand for them remains high. He reported that the number of positions advertised for entrepreneurship faculty around the world in the academic year 2010/11 was 283, while the number of candidates was 213—that is, fewer applicants than jobs. In contrast, history departments often have more than eighty job applicants for each available position.

Based on these documents, one participant urged Stringham to move forward with the program., saying, “If you don’t do it someone else will.” Using business-savvy lingo, another said, “If you’re not growing, you’re going.”

Spirited discussion led to what seemed to be a consensus about the “ideal” Ph.D. program. While participants thought that it must include some practical information about running a business, they also contended that it should be scholarly. Thus it should emphasize rigorous research in the sources and culture of environmentalism, while also reaching out to the entrepreneurial community in North Carolina through workshops, seminars, and possibly an entrepreneur-in-residence program.

Some of the recommended components were to:

  • Offer an intellectual analysis of the role of entrepreneurs, the causes of entrepreneurship, and the environment in which entrepreneurs work, with a core in Austrian economics.
  • Address broad questions such as the difference between productive and unproductive entrepreneurship—thus bringing in and critiquing businesses that use their creativity to obtain governmental favors (the public choice perspective).
  • Provide pedagogical information so that graduates would be ready to teach.
  • Ideally, include biographies of entrepreneurs, including “serial entrepreneurs” (people who constantly start businesses), family enterprise, and philanthropic enterprise (sometimes called social entrepreneurship), and minority enterprise.

By the end of the two days, the participants were making specific recommendations for courses, length of program, qualifications of students, and so forth.

Yet any doctoral program in entrepreneurship opening up in the UNC system faces a number of hurdles. It has to be accepted by the UNC General Administration and the UNC Board of Governors. New programs aren’t supposed to duplicate programs elsewhere in the UNC system and, with a board increasingly—and legitimately—concerned about cost control, it must not use up too many state resources.

Another obstacle is the fact that Fayetteville State University, a historically black college, is a master’s university in the Carnegie classification, which means that its programs are aimed more at undergraduates than graduate students, and at master’s students more than Ph.D. students. The school has only one doctoral program now, in educational leadership. Efforts by a master’s university to expand doctoral programs to emulate research universities—sometimes called the “bigger and better” syndrome—may not sit well with the governors in a time of stringency. And, given its relative lack of prominence, would the school be able to attract good students?

On the other hand, this is likely to be a very distinctive program, with a big role given to Austrian economics. Stringham received his Ph.D. from George Mason University, which emphasizes the Austrian approach. Relatively few people have been trained in Austrian economics and thus other programs would have difficulty featuring it. Yet the Academy of Management task force acknowledged its importance by saying that any doctoral program should have at least one course in Austrian economics.

And there is another reason why the program might fly. The dean of the business school, Assad Tavakoli, believes that there are substantial sources of income, ranging from gifts to foreign-student tuition, to support this program. Successful entrepreneurs themselves have often given money to entrepreneurship programs, and this one would emphasize the environment in which dynamic competition can operate.

Whatevever its chances of success, the process of developing a Ph.D. program has begun and has garnered a group of prominent advocates.

Participants in the seminar were:

Gerard Alexander, University of Virginia

Josiah Baker, Methodist University

Matthew Dobra, Methodist University

Pamela Jackson, Fayetteville State University

Petur Jonsson, Fayetteville State University

Adam Kissel, Charles Koch Foundation

Arthur Langer, Columbia University

Patrick Larkin, Fayetteville State University

Dwight Lee, Dwight, Southern Methodist University

Ted Malloch, Yale University

Robert W. McGee, Fayetteville State University

David Pistrui, Acumen Dynamics

Douglas Rasmussen, St. John’s University

Jane S. Shaw, Pope Center for Higher Education Policy

Edward Stringham, Fayetteville State University

Virgil H. Storr, George Mason University

Assad Tavakoli, Fayetteville State University