Sparking American Enterprise In Global Entrepreneurs (Kauffman Foundation's Global Scholars Program)

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How do entrepreneurs come to view the world as small, and the potential for their ideas very large? By Wendy Torrance (Director of Global Scholars Program, Kauffman Foundation)

When the Kauffman Foundation launched the Global Scholars Program in 2006, we envisioned a unique and world-leading opportunity that would teach and excite aspiring technology entrepreneurs. We planned to immerse them in entrepreneurial culture in the United States with a view to inspiring, building skills and knowledge, and turning their expertise in the direction of entrepreneurship and the creation of innovative businesses.

Guided by Benjamin Franklin's lessons from centuries ago about the importance of the transnational exchange of ideas and the fostering of innovation, we have, during the last two years, built a program that we believe offers an unparalleled education in entrepreneurship.

We have identified a core faculty, forged collaborations with centers for technology and entrepreneurship at Harvard and Stanford, worked with exemplary entrepreneurial companies, and created a curriculum that challenges the Scholars to refine and develop their ventures, and answer questions that are crucial to their progress.

We have hosted 27 students from universities in England, Denmark, and Northern Ireland, and are busy preparing for the arrival of our third class of Scholars in January 2009.

The Foundation feels fortunate to have worked with these remarkable Scholars, all outstanding ambassadors for their home countries and enthusiastic observers of, participants in, and contributors to, American entrepreneurial culture. The program has, according to charter class members, inspired a significant positive impact on the path of their careers.

They have called the experience "life changing," noting that their work with the Kauffman Foundation has equipped them with the tools, skills, and network to launch successful ventures. Students in our 2008 class have adopted the motto, "Everything has changed," and they note that the education they have received has transformed their perspectives, given them the confidence to pursue their ventures, and opened a vast transnational network that has provided them with myriad opportunities.

One 2008 Scholar characterized the transformation this way: "The world has gotten smaller, but my idea . . . what I want to do has gotten bigger."

How did the Program contribute to this change in how the Scholars view the world, themselves, the power of their ideas, and the path they can forge for the future? How do entrepreneurs come to view the world as small, and the potential for their ideas very large?

First, the Program selects the most accomplished students and aspiring entrepreneurs from their respective countries. Recognizing that the quality of one's peers is an important driver of success in any endeavor, we sought to create a network of the best supporting the best. Many of our Scholars have cited their own fellow Scholars as catalysts for change in their own ideas. The opportunity to share ideas, get feedback, and discover fruitful collaborations has strengthened and developed the ventures of each and every Scholar. Our alumni network leverages the collective lessons and affords opportunities for the Scholars to continue to work together.

Second, the Program offers the highest quality education in entrepreneurship, featuring presentations, seminars, workshops, and discussions with leading professors, researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and practitioners from around the country. The faculty we assemble from leading universities and programs on entrepreneurship, as well as leading law firms, teach the Scholars about building new ventures, finance, venture and angel capital, intellectual property and business law, marketing, building teams, negotiation, and generating and managing innovation. Visits to some of the finest universities in the country, including Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, exposes the Scholars to faculty and students engaged in visionary technology and in promoting entrepreneurial ventures that have had an impact worldwide. The seminars and visits provoke discussion, urge Scholars to improve their ideas, provide valuable insights that transform their thinking about entrepreneurship and new ventures, and help them develop their ideas.

Third, the Program exposes them to some of the most accomplished innovators and entrepreneurs in the country, who share their stories and experiences, complete with triumphs and tribulations, and who provide myriad examples of how you can move from an idea, however small, to a bigger idea and great commercial success. These innovators and entrepreneurs articulate the lessons they have learned and inspire our Scholars to think that they could move from their garage or computer desktop to the market. A day with inventor Dean Kamen, for example, afforded the Scholars the opportunity to hear what motivates a successful innovator, how new inventions are conceived and brought to market, and what challenges face those who choose to work on the bleeding edge of technology.

Fourth, by exposing the Scholars to the most innovative regions of the United States in Boston and Silicon Valley, we highlight how ideas are put into action with spectacular results. Using the skills they learned during classroom sessions, the Scholars have the opportunity to network with individuals and businesses in these unique environments. Engaging with entrepreneurs and business leaders in these regions engender the kind of familiarity with success and the culture of risk-taking that makes the world seem smaller.

Fifth, the Scholars have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the day-to-day operations of an innovative firm. Our Scholars work with cutting-edge technology and media companies, including Google, Cisco, InVivo Therapeutics, and InCube Ventures, and have mentors from top levels of leadership (including CEOs and founders) as well as other division leaders. They contribute to product development, research, Web development, sales, market identification, and many other important projects. They shadow company leaders, sit in on business development meetings, learn about venture capital, have discussions with founding entrepreneurs, and learn first-hand about the challenges of launching a new or cutting-edge enterprise.

Sixth, the Scholars complete learning modules developed specifically for the Program. These modules integrate classroom lessons with internship experiences and the stories of entrepreneurs, provide additional reading, and encourage the Scholars to develop their perspectives and their ideas. Topics include entrepreneurs and growth, identifying and evaluating opportunities, market research, recruiting and hiring, risks and risk management, and entrepreneurial finance.

Through all of these opportunities, the Program enables Scholars to imagine and to become entrepreneurs with a world-wide vision.

We are eager to follow the careers of our alumni. Of 27 fellowship recipients, 14 have established companies or consultancies, and four are actively pursuing startup opportunities in a variety of arenas. Their new companies will provide innovative products to prevent flood damage, improve the computing and mobile experience of the colorblind, and contribute new technology to the challenges of remote security surveillance.

A remarkable four Scholars were selected to the top 100 of the HSBC Unipreneurs competition — an award program that aims to discover and encourage a new generation of university-educated business entrepreneurs—and a team of two charter class members won the top prize, beating more than 400 hopeful competitors.

As a result of creating the Global Scholars Program, the Kauffman Foundation's own world has grown smaller; we have friends in entrepreneurs across the Atlantic, and our ideas have gotten bigger. We have learned a great deal about our own capacity to inspire new entrepreneurs, and our future endeavors will be richer because of the experience we have had with these remarkable entrepreneurs. We look forward to the prospect of inspiring, and being inspired by, the next generation of global entrepreneurs.

This post was originally posted at Kauffman Foundation.

About the guest blogger: Wendy Torrance is the Director of Global Scholars Program at the Kauffman Foundation, focusing particularly on the creation of outstanding entrepreneurship instruction. Wendy created and leads two international educational fellowship programs at the Kauffman Foundation that serve students and professors from abroad. Participants in these programs have been sponsored by organizations in six countries. Wendy holds a PhD in Political Science from Harvard University.