Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos and Russell Wilson all have it.
They see opportunities a little differently.
“It’s in their DNA or a genetic flaw that exists in entrepreneurs unlike other people,” says Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the entrepreneurship program at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.
“If you look at the profile of who entrepreneurs are, they tend to be highly observant people. They watch how people behave. They tend to be proactive and they tend to think that they, more than anybody else, could do this better.”
By the end of the fall quarter, a small number of non-business majors will be admitted to the UW’s first competitive minor in entrepreneurship.
For years, the university has competitive degrees which admit a limited number of students such as the business school or computer programing.
Five months ago, the UW voted to allow competitive minors. Until now, anyone who wanted to minor in Aerospace Leadership, Statistics, dozens of languages, or other concentrations of study could take the classes and declare that minor.
For the entrepreneurship minor, only select students will be admitted – starting with about 25 and ultimately serving 500 students.
Non-business undergrads will have to take prerequisite courses in microeconomics, financial accounting, and managerial accounting before they’ll be considered.
Bourassa-Shaw, who heads the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, says she’s looking for the most motivated students with the best ideas.
“You have students from different disciplines, with different backgrounds in the same classrooms it makes the conversation that much more robust and it ups the level of sophistication,” says Bourassa-Shaw.
The UW’s entrepreneurship program goes back to the 1990s when it focused on writing business plans. It’s evolved into having one of the only programs in the country where students are given the opportunity, and money, to create and run a company. They only have 10 weeks to turn a profit.
“We have about 75 companies that are still in existence that are raising money. They have employees, they contribute to the state of Washington, and they are doing just fine,” says Bourassa-Shaw. “Probably one of the most notable ones was NanoString Technologies. They just went public last summer. So I’ve had my first company with an IPO.”
NanoString Technologies, which provides life-science research tools, sold 5.4 million shares raising $54 million in June. Their stock is trading around $10 a share today.
Bourassa-Shaw has seen entrepreneurs of all ages. Many who come to the program already started their own companies in high school. Others will be older students.
Those over the age of 50 make up the largest growing group of entrepreneurs because they get to a point where they’ve spent enough time working for someone else.
“They say, ‘I want to see the value of what I’m doing. I don’t want to be a cog in a very large wheel. I don’t want to be a nameless, faceless entity,'” she says.
“What they all have in common is an entrepreneur’s mind, which is the ultimate advantage in the workplace,” she says.
“It’s really about the ability to see opportunities and do something about them. There’s creativity, there’s passion, there’s determination. Those are all things that go into saying ‘I see this idea over here, and I’m going to turn it into a bigger thing over there.'”
By LINDA THOMAS