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Entrepreneurship Means More Than Just Start-ups

In 2017, Sarah Nelson ’18 interned at the retail consulting firm JL Buchanan. As part of its consumer insights team, the entrepreneurship major worked on researching and developing a strategy for an essential oil category at a major department store retailer. The information Nelson and her colleagues produced was instrumental when JL Buchanan pitched ideas to the department store.

Nelson’s role at JL Buchanan focused on consumer research, aligning much of what she did at the company with what she had learned in a class she had taken on entrepreneurial research and design thinking methodology.

This past summer, Nelson worked for Fusion Hill, a research, strategy and creative agency. She was part of a strategy team tasked with conducting research, competitive analyses and value propositions for clients. Once again, Nelson used those entrepreneurial skills to think critically while keeping in mind the client’s position and the needs of the consumer. Nelson credits the skills she developed as a student at the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship with helping her succeed as an intern and preparing her for “life in the real world.”

“As entrepreneurship majors we were able to grow and develop as individuals by running companies from head to toe, understanding investor financials and learning about the consumer’s view through design thinking,”  Nelson said.

“Most notably, I became better equipped to test the viability of a concept or strategy. I learned how to mitigate risk and make wise choices. These skills will definitely help me as I grow and develop as a strategist.”

The value of an entrepreneurial mindset

The entrepreneurial mindset Nelson sharpened at St. Thomas is applicable to any career, said Laura Dunham, PhD, associate dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. While most people think entrepreneurship is synonymous with business, it is far from the only career choice for majors in the field. In fact, many graduates take an “intrapreneurial” route, allowing them the opportunity to bring their own, unique entrepreneurial skills into an established company looking for innovative employees to boost growth. Companies rely on those tools and skills entrepreneurship students and graduates have to spot new opportunities in the marketplace, evaluate them and decide how to pursue them effectively.

“My students who don’t want to start a business will ask, ‘What will I do?’” Dunham said. “I just have to go onto Indeed.com and type in ‘entrepreneur’ and 600 opportunities show up in the Twin Cities from entry level positions to chief operating officers. You’re seeing the entrepreneurial mindset and entrepreneurial skills more and more as a requirement for jobs across functions in a company. They want people who can deal with unstructured problems, who know how to – despite uncertainty – search opportunities and figure out how to pursue them. Those are entrepreneurial competencies.”

Critical parts of that mindset include curiosity and empathy, along with unique business competencies and creative problem solving skills.

“It’s about sparking your creative confidence – your ability to know you can do stuff,” Dunham said. “It’s about sparking what we call opportunity orientation. When other people say, ‘This is a drag,’ entrepreneurs say, ‘This is a drag, but what would make it better? Is there a business here? Let me think.’”

The Schulze School of Entrepreneurship offers up to 10 four-year, full-tuition scholarships for incoming first-year students. Innovative high school seniors are encouraged to apply before December 1.