Mason Enterprise Center Reinventing Vision of an Entrepreneurial University

Posted: December 3, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Elena Barbre

When the GMU Entrepreneurship Center was transformed into the Mason Enterprise Center in 1999, its mission was to link and help embed entrepreneurship into every academic unit at George Mason and to use that entrepreneurial dimension to foster a culture of innovation in the Northern Virginia and greater Washington metropolitan regions.

Progress on this mission has been made through development of a cross-university curriculum of entrepreneurship courses in the School of Information Technology and Engineering (IT&E), the School of Management (SOM), the College of Nursing and Health Science, the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), the School of Computational Sciences (SCS), and the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA), in addition to a research program in entrepreneurship, a university-wide student business plan contest, a support program (Technology Venture Partnership) for students attempting to grow their own businesses, and maintenance of a wide range of programs that assist small and developing businesses in the region and abroad.

Roger Stough, Mason Enterprise Center director, is now taking that vision several steps further with a plan that is expected to make the entrepreneurship program at George Mason one of the top five university entrepreneurship programs in the United States in the next five years–the “5 in 5” plan. The plan is to reposition the university’s existing entrepreneurship programs to develop an integrated knowledge center for creating, storing, teaching, and more generally disseminating knowledge about entrepreneurship policy, practice, and education.

“Entrepreneurship isn’t yet a field of its own with its own theory and methods,” says Stough. “Our goal is to help create a framework and the emerging foundation of theory for the field, which by its nature finds expression in most departments and schools in the university. As such, we are defining entrepreneurship as a dimension that cuts across the fabric of the whole university.”

Components of this plan include creating undergraduate and perhaps graduate degree programs and concentrations in entrepreneurship and strengthening the university’s expertise in three main areas: international entrepreneurship, social and public sector entrepreneurship, and information technology entrepreneurship. One vision of the undergraduate degree concept would have a core curriculum delivered largely by the School of Management with concentrations offered in different schools and departments or by combinations of schools and departments. Another would be to use the nonprofit management studies program as a base for a degree in social entrepreneurship, again with concentrations offered in various parts of the university. Offering one or more degrees is an essential component of top-ranked entrepreneurship programs.

The university has already established a program in international entrepreneurship through the Enterprise Center that includes an enterprise development center in Bucharest, Romania; training programs for entrepreneurs in Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese; an international incubator managed in collaboration with Arlington County; and prequalification programs for businesses relocating to Japan, Germany, and China. George Mason’s proximity to international development agencies, such as the World Bank and embassies of all the countries in the world, makes it a prime location for supporting such a program, says Stough.

While the field of social entrepreneurship is generating increasing interest, the related field of public sector entrepreneurship has not yet been defined. “Few others are using the term, or even the concept,” says Stough. He notes that the national capital region is the largest government-contracting center in the world, in addition to housing a large association headquarters industry that is organized largely as a nonprofit sector. “We have a very big social and government entrepreneurship stage to play on and to test out educational and advisory approaches, not to mention theory and methods testing. We would like to position public sector entrepreneurship as a new innovative approach to achieving greater efficiency in government. Sharon deMonsebert is heading a task force that is developing this concept.”

The strong link between technology, entrepreneurship, and regional development makes this region a natural consumer of technology entrepreneurship services–one that the Enterprise Center can help grow by building on existing programs in IT&E, SCS, CAS, CVPA, SPP, and SOM as a laboratory for delivering services regionally, says Stough. The university has internationally recognized expertise in regional development, and the addition of a potential new hire with a world-class reputation in entrepreneurship would create a team to “lead research, identify best practices, and provide national and international advising, and that would immediately project George Mason into the top three programs in the world in this area.”

The university recently launched a partnership with StargazerNET that will help the Enterprise Center develop virtual interactive educational, training, and counselor services to increase its success and efficiency in international, public sector, and technology entrepreneurship. A final component of the new vision calls for a world-class conference to involve international business, financial, and public sector leaders and serve as the center’s signature annual event. Stough envisions the conference as largely organized and led by students, and supported by endowments and sponsorships raised by these students.

The benefits the university stands to reap from this university-wide repositioning of its enterprise development and entrepreneurship programs are substantial, ranging from increased student enrollments and fundraising capabilities to enhanced relationships with public and private sector organizations and new sponsored research opportunities for faculty members. And, according to Stough, the most exciting benefit of all may be the opportunity to help define a new academic field of entrepreneurship and create another “first” for George Mason.

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