Fostering an Entrepreneurial Spirit

For years, a quiet debate has been waged about whether entrepreneurship can be taught, or coaxed, or whether the trait is simply something that people are born with.

While that discussion continues on some levels, colleges across the region and around the world are creating and expanding programs of study in entrepreneurship — and we’re very glad that they are.

That’s because Western Mass., and the world in general, need to be more entrepreneurial. By this, we mean that individuals, and entire companies, need to be more enterprising. And the proliferation of programs at area colleges — some of which involve people in high school and even middle school — bodes well for the future of this region.

When most people think of the words ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘entrepreneurship,’ they think of business owners and the act of starting new ventures. But that’s only part of it. That terminology also applies to people who think in an entrepreneurial manner, meaning they’re focused on new ideas, new ventures, and different, better ways of doing things.

By creating and expanding programs in entrepreneurship education, area schools are helping to foster economic development in the region by creating new businesses and strengthening existing ones.

Area programs come in different sizes and shapes, but they have the same basic goals — to promote entrepreneurship as a viable career option, and to provide individuals with the skills needed to succeed in business, or at least have a better chance of doing so.

Most programs in this region have developed over the past decade or so. Schools such as UMass, Springfield Technical Community College, Bay Path College, American International College, Western New England College, and Holyoke Community College have created degree programs or courses of study that encourage people to be entrepreneurial — and then show them how to do it.

Some programs compel or individuals or groups or individuals to create their own businesses, while others offer case studies involving local or national companies, and still others place students with area business owners for a semester or a year to watch, learn, and sometimes help plot a strategic course.

In each case, students are learning by doing, which will provide invaluable experience for the day when they are running their own business or trying to help an employer expand or diversify his or her venture.

It’s hard to quantify just what the various entrepreneurship programs mean in terms of the short- and long-term health of the region’s economy, but it’s fair to say that the proliferation of study programs should create jobs and also help existing companies compete effectively in an increasingly global economy.

As recent editions of BusinessWest have revealed, there are some very exciting entrepreneurial ventures taking shape across Western Mass. These involve everything from ethanol production to wind power, from developing a better wind turbine to devising new ways to remove costs from medical billing. These initiatives and others bode well for the region, and they exist because people with drive and imagination are taking risks and converting ideas into new businesses.

It’s no coincidence that we’re seeing so many exciting new ventures. This region has a deep tradition of entrepreneurial spirit stretching back to the early days of the Springfield Armory, and the current generation is simply carrying on that tradition.

But through the many programs in entrepreneurship education now in place in the Pioneer Valley, this region can expect even more enterprising people to step forward with new concepts and new businesses.

And as we said, this bodes well for the Greater Springfield area and its future economic health and well-being.