Carlson School expands entrepreneurial program

by Kane Loukas

Directors of the University’s business school aim to cement the college’s top 10 national rating with the broadening of a cutting edge program for entrepreneurs.
This week marks the beginning of a three-year, $16 million expansion of the Carlson School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. A $2.5 million private contribution helped the project get off to a running start.
Functioning with only one full-time professor for the last nine years, the entrepreneurial center will gain up to eight faculty members and see an increase in course offerings from five to about 36. Directors of the center intend to create an entrepreneurial program that engages students with Minnesota businesses and the learning opportunities they can offer.
Measured in dollars, support for the center is at $2.5 million, owing to a recent contribution from Robert and Gail Buuck. A 1972 University graduate and a successful Twin Cities entrepreneur, Robert Buuck co-founded two Minnesota medical companies — American Medical Systems and Iotek Inc. American Medical was sold for $105 million in 1985 to Pfizer Inc., the company that makes Viagra.
“We have always thought of the University as one of the crown jewels of the state,” Buuck said in a press release. As a member of the Carlson Advisory Board, Buuck has been involved in the Center’s expansion from its early planning stages.
Sharing the spotlight with Buuck is Douglas Johnson, the designated entrepreneur-in-residence who will start as co-director of the center on July 20. Johnson, 54, was hired to do what he’s done for numerous fledgling businesses: direct development projects from initial concept to full-scale operation.
During his career, Johnson assisted in launching more than 40 high-tech companies while working independently and as an investment banker for Dain Bosworth (now Dain Rauscher) as well as Norwest Venture Capital.
“What I’m good at is setting things up. When it gets more tedious I go away,” said Johnson, who plans to stay at the University only to see the center through the expansion phase.
“Every business has to have something unique about it,” he said. “It is in that thinking that the entrepreneurial program at the University has to be unique.”
To hone the center’s competitive edge, faculty members are designing the curriculum with special attention to the areas of medical and information technology, electronic commerce and business expansion through high-tech innovation. The topics are viewed as important to the future of business and to Minnesota’s high-tech industries.
Technology will turn business upside down, Johnson said. “Those who use it right will be successful and the others who don’t will fail.”
Also, the program curriculum “is going to make an effort to match the skills of students with the needs of companies,” said Alexander Ardishvili, co-director of academic programs at the center.
He said students who are interested in building a company from scratch would benefit most from the entrepreneurial curriculum, rather than a straight business degree, which teaches how to perform within an established company.
“In the short run, we don’t see it being rolled-out to undergrads,” said Mary Nichols, an associate dean at the Carlson School. Although there has been great interest from undergraduates, she said, for now the program directors are concentrating all their energy on the graduate program expansion. An entrepreneurship club is open to all University students.
Master’s of Business Administration and Carlson School graduate students can enroll in an extensive mentorship course as well as participate in program internships and seminars. Carlson School officials are constructing courses and requirements with a priority on student-entrepreneur relationships.
For the last three years, the center has offered a course in which about 30 students from the Institute of Technology and the Carlson School team up with companies for one year. The students work with professionals to design and develop a product prototype that could go into production if approved by the company.
Linking students with Twin Cities entrepreneurs aids students in forming a real-world business sense that can’t be taught in the classroom, Johnson said.
“Entrepreneurs who have done it before can be very valuable in helping develop good judgment.”