Degree doesn’t ensure success

The Carlson School of Management offers an entrepreneurial degree.

by Jared Roddy

Students can get an entrepreneurial studies degree through the Carlson School of Management, but it is no guarantee for success.

Despite an increase in student interest for the degree program, administrators and business owners said there is still no substitute for passion and persistence.

Greg Pillsbury can vouch for passion and persistence. Pillsbury, the co-owner of Burrito Loco, graduated from the University in 1996. But his degree isn’t in business or entrepreneurship – it’s in history.

Pillsbury said that if he could start over, he would have taken some Carlson School classes to learn a few of the fundamentals of business ownership he has had to pick up along the way.

“There’s a huge amount of real-world business experience I could have gotten in school,” Pillsbury said. “Now, I have to learn for myself and limp along, or pay someone else to do it.”

However, he said, having a degree helped him get his business started.

“The only way I am able to do what I do now is that I got a college degree,” Pillsbury said. “You need that degree to be taken seriously and to get loans.”

George Mendez, owner of the Library Bar & Grill, also went to the University. After he took some general courses, he decided going out and working would be best for his future, he said.

“In the end, when you go to the bank, they don’t ask you for a college degree,” Mendez said. “They ask if you have experience in the business. If you say ‘No, I just graduated,’ chances of getting a loan are pretty slim.”

Nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship

Since taking over the program in 2001, Carlson School Chairman of Entrepreneurial Studies Harry Sapienza said, enrollment in entrepreneurship classes increased 285 percent. In the same period, the number of entrepreneurial studies majors has increased 218 percent.

But an entrepreneurial or business degree is not necessary to build a business, Sapienza said.

“Do you need to take guitar lessons to play the guitar? You don’t have to, but you might be able to do it better and more quickly, and with fewer mistakes if you do,” Sapienza said.

Mendez said he took a small-business class several years ago that taught him some fundamentals, such as how to write a business plan, that he would not have otherwise known.

One of the focuses of the Carlson School entrepreneurial studies program is to teach

that type of technical knowledge. Writing a business plan, accounting, business and tax laws; these are some of the “nuts and bolts” the degree is trying to bestow, Sapienza said.

The program also teaches students how to take the plunge into business ownership.

“A lot of people don’t start their own businesses, because they’re afraid,” Sapienza said. “Part of it is getting people the confidence as well as the knowledge to give it a try.”

Another option

Only approximately 1 percent of graduates actually go out and start their own businesses, said Robyn Brieske, academic advising assistant to Carlson School undergraduates. Most go into corporations and then branch out.

For that reason, Sapienza recommended that entrepreneurial studies majors also have some functional specialization, such as marketing or strategic communication – something to make them stand out as applicants.

Britta Anderson is doing just that. Double-majoring in marketing and entrepreneurial studies through the Carlson School, Anderson is also the president of the Entrepreneurship Club, a student organization for budding business owners. She said there are two parts to making a successful business.

“One is pure passion – anyone can be driven enough to succeed, some people are born with it,” Anderson said. “The other part is technical. I definitely think that a degree can help you out there.”

The Entrepreneurship Club has almost 200 members, Anderson said, and half are Carlson School students. Every week, two successful entrepreneurs give presentations to the group.

“It gives students a chance to think outside the box as far as ‘Where can I get a job?’ and ‘Who can I work for?’ or ‘What big company?’ ” Anderson said. “Twice a week, we give students an opportunity to know there’s another option.”

And that option, she said, is “building a life around something you love.”