40 Under 40 Class of 2008

Lauren Way

Age 38: Director of the Entrepreneurial Program at Bay Path College

Lauren Way calls it “academic entrepreneurship,” which is not to be confused with entrepreneurship education — and she does that, too.

Way, director of the Entrepreneurial Program, director of Cooperative Education, and assistant professor of Business at Bay Path College in Longmeadow, has a rather detailed definition of that first term. She says it involves, well, being entrepreneurial when it comes to education.

In other words, being innovative, thus bringing new ideas, imaginative learning tools, and better ways of doing things to the classroom (but not in the traditional sense) and the growing, evolving realm of entrepreneurship education. Elaborating, Way, the highest point-scorer within the Forty Under 40 class of ’08, told BusinessWest that, by focusing on what’s known as experiential education, or learning by doing, she’s working to break new ground in this field that she entered after undertaking a number of entrepreneurial ventures herself.

“If you tell me something, I’ll forget it,” she said, beginning a phrase often used to describe experiential learning. “If you show me, I might remember, but if you let me do it, it will be my skill forever.”

Way’s M.O. can be boiled down to a simple working philosophy — taking students out of their comfort zone — and she does it, in one program, by putting them into the shoes of the business owner. She calls it the ‘entrepreneur-for-a-semester’ exercise, and it involves pairing students in her classes with actual entrepreneurs in Western Mass. and Northern Conn., some of whom are facing growing pains and hard choices about where to take their companies, and how.

“They sit in the driver’s seat and make decisions, and it’s really frightening for students because it goes outside their comfort zone,” she said. “But I firmly believe that this is the only way people grow — to go outside that zone.”

As she talked about entrepreneurship education, Way said one of the elements involved in this course of study is convincing people that being an entrepreneur is not just a viable career option, but one that can, in her words, “set you free.”

She’s knows this because she’s done it — and as she said, getting people to do, and not just read about things in a book, is how they’ll learn, how they’ll grow, and how they’ll reach their full potential.

That’s the real definition of academic entrepreneurship.

George O’Brien