Entrepreneurship Education: More Business Schools are Focusing on. Present-day Opportunities
A growing recognition that America's small businesses are now the engines that drive a large part of the economy has more and more students expressing interest in becoming entrepreneurs or small business owners.
As the debate rages on in academic and business circles on whether entrepreneurship can, in fact, be taught, increasingly, business schools are yielding to the widespread student demand that entrepreneurship studies or programs be a part of their graduate and undergraduate curriculum.
In 1970, when University of Washington Professor of Business Administration Karl Vesper began collecting data, the number of institutions that offered entrepreneurship studies was a mere 16. Today, that number has surged to more than 400 and counting, says Vesper, author of several business school textbooks.
In trying to explain this renewed interest in entrepreneurship, business educators surmise that massive joblessness and scarce opportunities have stimulated entrepreneurial activities in the United States and abroad. As a result, these conditions, which are related to global economic restructuring, have fostered a new understanding of entrepreneurship as being more a collective, social process than one of individual exploitation.
"The radical rise in the number of schools that offer courses and programs in entrepreneurship is part of a much broader fabric not only in society, but the world over," explains Vesper. "As it turns out, you can see big organizations breaking themselves down into small units, unions are crumbling to smaller sizes, the Catholic Church is shrinking, and even the Soviet Union has broken up. Since the market is being driven by things that don't care about a person's color," minorities, just like anyone else, are poised to cash in on some of the opportunities that result, says Vesper.
Darlene Williamson, president and CEO of Performax Consulting Services, is one entrepreneur who is reaping some of the benefits of changes in the marketplace. "Many companies are closing whole units and are sub-contracting some of their work. This is creating all types of new businesses," says Williamson, adding that she would like more women and minorities to harness their business acumen and embrace some of these new opportunities.
Staying In the Black
Currently, however, African Americans lag behind other groups in launching entrepreneurial endeavors. According to the 1990 Census, although African Americans comprise 12.1 percent of the population, they own only about 3 percent of all U.S. businesses. This amounts to fewer than 14 businesses per 1,000 African Americans, compared to 63 for whites; 32 for women; and 108 per 1,000 for Arab Americans.
Why African Americans are not key players in the entrepreneurial or small business arenas has been the subject of an ongoing debate that dates back to the famous ideological clashes between Booker. T Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. A few new factors, however, have surfaced. African Americans, for example, must face a number of hurdles including lack of capital funding and an inability to secure Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. The number of SBA loans approved for minority businesses dropped from 6 percent in 1980 to 2.9 percent in 1991.
Maryland businessman Robert Wallace, president of the Bith Group, a management consulting firm that also provides entrepreneurial training, says the slow pace of African Americans to capitalize on business opportunities -- even in their own neighborhoods -- has been a concern of his ever since his early days growing up in a Baltimore "ghetto."
A graduate of both the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College, Wallace remembers a concern of his boyhood, "I often wondered why most of the people who did business in my community didn't look like us. That made me very angry, and I wanted to change that. …