Though some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs have been college dropouts, Pamplin College of Business professor Marc Junkunc argues that a college education and entrepreneurship courses, in particular, have a valuable role in creating better ideas and better entrepreneurs.
“There are very few like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs,” says Junkunc, an assistant professor of management. Moreover, he says, many exceptional entrepreneurs in recent decades, including Google’s founders, have also earned graduate degrees.
Junkunc is well versed in both the theory and practice of entrepreneurship: he specializes in research and teaching in entrepreneurship and has been involved for many years in various businesses as a founder and CEO, team member, investor, advisor, and board director.
“There is a lot of confusion about entrepreneurship education,” Junkunc says. “I am not so sure that we teach entrepreneurship. What we do is help people be better entrepreneurs.”
Between a good concept and a real business prospect — with a viable market and a sustainable model — often lies a wide gulf, and it takes knowledge, skills, and resources, he says, to turn one into the other.
College programs on entrepreneurship help increase the probability of success by offering not only specific knowledge and skills development but also networks, mentors, space, and resources. Students have time and a safe environment to explore their ideas and ferret out the feasible business opportunities.
“In eight years of teaching undergraduate courses in entrepreneurship, I have seen how the seed of a student idea can be nurtured into a true business opportunity and actually launched with success by the student. This process is happening on many college campuses today.”
Junkunc, who is faculty director of Virginia Tech’s Innovate program, aimed at nurturing student entrepreneurship through a “living-learning community,” wants to impart some key lessons.
Many young entrepreneurs, for example, feel that the problem is getting a good idea — that “all the great ideas have already been done” — but this is not so, he says. “The real trouble is figuring out how to translate great ideas into true opportunities and recognizing the difference.”
Another lesson is that once revenue is generated, profitability has to be the focus. “Revenue alone is not enough to sustain the business; you ultimately need profit. Some basic knowledge, skills, and tools can go a long way to help entrepreneurs understand how to convert revenue into sustainable profitability.”