Can you teach that?

Equipping tomorrow's entrepreneurs

Mark Junkunc between open doors
Successful entrepreneurs not only create wealth for themselves but can open doors to opportunities for others, says Marc Junkunc.

Though some of the world's most successful entrepreneurs have been college dropouts, Marc Junkunc argues that a college education and entrepreneurship courses, in particular, have a valuable role in creating better ideas and better entrepreneurs.

“There are very few like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs,” says Junkunc, an assistant professor of management. Moreover, he says, many exceptional entrepreneurs in recent decades, including Google's founders, have also earned graduate degrees.

Junkunc is well versed in both the theory and practice of entrepreneurship: he specializes in research and teaching in entrepreneurship and has been involved for many years in various businesses as a founder and CEO, team member, investor, advisor, and board director.

Entrepreneurship education

“There is a lot of confusion about entrepreneurship education,” Junkunc says. “I am not so sure that we teach entrepreneurship. What we do is help people be better entrepreneurs.”

Mark Junkunc talks to student
Student entrepreneurs in the new Innovate
living-learning community will benefit from classes,
workshops, networking, and mentoring opportunities.

Between a good concept and a real business prospect — with a viable market and a sustainable model — often lies a wide gulf, and it takes knowledge, skills, and resources, he says, to turn one into the other.

College programs on entrepreneurship help increase the probability of success by offering not only specific knowledge and skills development but also networks, mentors, space, and resources. Students have time and a safe environment to explore their ideas and ferret out the feasible business opportunities.

“In eight years of teaching undergraduate courses in entrepreneurship, I have seen how the seed of a student idea can be nurtured into a true business opportunity and actually launched with success by the student. This process is happening on many college campuses today.”

Living-learning community

At Virginia Tech, student entrepreneurship got a boost with Innovate, a pilot program launched this past summer as a “living-learning community” for 35 entrepreneurial hopefuls. Junkunc is its faculty director.

Based in a former fraternity house, the program is aimed at being an immersion experience for the group of mostly freshman students. Junkunc will teach a three-credit entrepreneurial experience course at the house and, with other faculty members, lead a project-oriented curriculum that includes team-building exercises.

Students listening to lecture
"I have seen how the seed of a student idea can be turned
into a true business opportunity," says Junkunc.

In addition to traditional and non-traditional classes, Innovate activities will include formal and informal meetings, workshops, networking, and mentoring. Students will learn from faculty, visiting entrepreneurs, upper-division students with entrepreneurial experience, as well as from one another.

Running the program will be an entrepreneurial process in and of itself, says Junkunc, who wants to impart some key lessons.

Junkunc's advice

Many young entrepreneurs, for example, feel that the problem is getting a good idea — that “all the great ideas have already been done” — but this is not so, he says.

“New discovery and innovation are happening all the time, and that allows for new entrepreneurial ventures. The real trouble is figuring out how to translate great ideas into true opportunities and recognizing the difference.”

There's also the importance of recognizing the “point of no return” — when it's time, after all the dreaming, planning, and evaluating, to make a commitment, to “jump in for real.”

With his own first business, that point was when he and his partner signed the lease: “we were on the hook for the terms of the lease,” he says, and there was no looking back.

Another lesson is that once revenue is generated, profitability has to be the focus. “Revenue alone is not enough to sustain the business; you ultimately need profit. Some basic knowledge, skills, and tools can go a long way to help entrepreneurs understand how to convert revenue into sustainable profitability.”

And in a world full of distractions, it is essential, he says, “once you have crystallized your entrepreneurial vision, to keep a razor sharp focus on your objectives and necessary next-step milestones and not be pulled away by the next buzzword or fad in your domain.”

Junkunc is enthusiastic about Innovate's potential, as the latest member of Virginia Tech's “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” to “add something outstanding and sustainable to the chain of value creation at the university and community.”

It will be a team effort, he says, and “it is exciting to have the opportunity to participate.”

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