When Woodbridge Ferris founded what was originally the Big Rapids Industrial School in 1884, he did so as both an educator and an entrepreneur.
Although still a young man, he had already been involved in starting and running other schools, not all of which succeeded. His success in Big Rapids came from taking the steps that many successful entrepreneurs take when first starting a business: doing research, starting small and not becoming over-extended.
In Fall 2011, Ferris State University publicly launched its Entrepreneurship Institute by hosting Global Entrepreneurship Week, which included a series of speakers and a “pitch competition” for budding entrepreneurs.
The institute is headed by College of Business professor Shirish Grover, who said that the institute is the brainchild of Ferris First, a group organized by the university’s Strategic Planning and Resource Council.
“This group is looking for innovative, forward-thinking ideas that anticipate what education will look like a few years down the line,” Grover said. “They want to identify innovative cross-functional and cross-college programs.”
The institute plans to fulfill its charge through three main areas of focus:
• Acting as a resource center for aggregating and disseminating information related to entrepreneurship. To that end, the institute plans to hold a “business boot camp” for entrepreneurs in Summer 2013.
“This will take participants through the entire process of ideation to commercialization through the process of case studies, business plan development and modeling,” Grover explained. “Students will have interaction with venture capitalists, lawyers and area entrepreneurs.”
• Developing a curriculum that meets the needs of both potential and existing entrepreneurs. Grover wants to see the university offer certificates in Entrepreneurial Studies. The proposed four-class-set certificates would fit seamlessly into most students’ areas of study.
• Creating an Entrepreneurial Incubator that hosts entrepreneurs and facilitates their
success. This is the long-term goal of the institute — developing a place that offers
support to area entrepreneurs.
“We will provide a space for them to grow,” Grover said. “We will have a physical space where, for a nominal amount, entrepreneurs can begin to grow their businesses. We will provide communications, marketing, that kind of support. In return, we would have a stake in their business, which is how an incubator works.”
It is not only faculty and administrators who want to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit. Students have launched a Ferris chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
Graduating senior and CEO President Kristen Dzikowicz of Cadillac echoed Grover’s emphasis on engaging all of Ferris’ various colleges when she noted that the group’s inaugural membership of 16 students came from “all different programs and academic levels. We’re open to all majors, and I think that’s a great benefit to us. We can teach others about entrepreneurship while learning it ourselves.”
She noted that the top finishers in the fall 2011 pitch competition came from three colleges: Pharmacy, Kendall College of Art and Design, and Business.
Dzikowicz’ interest in entrepreneurship started early. Her parents were both in corporate management, and she spent six summers working for a landscape business started by her mother and step-father. She credits Don Green, vice president for Extended and International Operations, with championing the idea of “Ownership vs. Loanership.”
“What he means is that we spend all this money and all this time in college, and we go out there and loan our ideas, training and skills to our employers. On the other hand, we could own our ideas and use them to our own benefit. That’s what entrepreneurship is all about.”
Dzikowicz, a Business Administration major with a concentration in Human Resource Management, wants that to be a pattern for her own professional development. Ultimately, she would like to partner with a facilities and management specialist to form a consulting company that could evaluate a company’s efficiency in terms both of human capital and physical footprint.
The Academy Award-winning movie “The Social Network,” based on the experience of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, made studying at a university appear to be all but incompatible with business innovation.
Grover hopes that the institute, especially through an Entrepreneurial Incubator, will be a resource for students at Ferris, as well as independent businesses regionally.
“Think about it. Google was founded by two people who were in college. At a certain point, their institution stopped them from flourishing, because they could no longer house the data on their server,” Grover said. “There is something missing in our current educational model in that we don’t support entrepreneurs.
“One of the ways this incubator could work would be by supporting these kinds of entrepreneurs. That is one of our goals. Also, we are seeking partnerships with local and regional innovation networks to develop collaborative linkages.”
For more information on Ferris’ Entrepreneurship Institute, visit here.