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Center for Entrepreneurship Celebrates 25th Anniversary

In the spirit of the underlying theme of today’s entrepreneurship philosophy — taking a good idea from the dream stage to reality — Saint Louis University’s Center for Entrepreneurship at the John Cook School of Business started with two professors who taught the concepts of entrepreneurship and also had been involved in small businesses themselves. This fall the Center celebrates 25 years.

In the mid-80s, teaching courses about entrepreneurship and small business development were not common and, in many cases, they were deemed unnecessary by some academics. However Bob Brockhaus, Ph.D., and Jerry Katz, Ph.D., sensed the importance of developing a curriculum for students.

To understand how the Center for Entrepreneurship came to be requires a look at the history of entrepreneurial education at SLU and the two men who would influence its creation, as well the growth that would follow.

 

Early Beginnings

Katz credits Brockhaus as the one who did a lot of the “heavy lifting” early on to make the Center a reality. Brockhaus graduated from the Missouri School of Mines (now Missouri University for Science and Technology) with a degree in engineering in 1962. His career path took him to St. Louis-based Ralston Purina, where he was a very successful area manager who spent a great deal of time on the road for the company. While with Ralston Purina, he earned an MBA from Purdue University.

In 1969, Brockhaus decided to venture out on his own and started a restaurant near the UMSL campus. Like most entrepreneurs, he wasn’t sure exactly how it would go. So when an opportunity to teach part-time in the UMSL business school occurred, he joined its faculty. Falling in love with teaching, he ultimately decided to close the restaurant and start work on his doctorate at Washington University. In 1973, Brockhaus got a call from SLU looking for someone who could teach production management, and he signed on here.

That summer, department chair Sam Barone, knowing Brockhaus’ entrepreneurial background, asked him to teach a course in entrepreneurship. In those days, a very limited number of courses were available at a handful of colleges and universities. In fact, some faculty members told him it was a “watered down, Mickey Mouse” course that had no place at the University. However, the class took on a life of its own as enthusiastic students filled the classroom and the course continued to grow.

Fast forward a dozen or so years. After a sabbatical from SLU as a Fulbright scholar in New Zealand and holding an endowed chair in entrepreneurship at Kansas State University, Brockhaus returned to the John Cook School of Business. Believing the idea for a chair in entrepreneurship had not progressed very far, he enlisted the aid of then Chancellor and former SLU President Paul Reinert, S.J. They quickly raised a half million dollars, and plans began to take shape.

At about the same time, the Coleman Foundation, knowing of Brockhaus’ work in entrepreneurship, approached SLU with a proposal to endow the Coleman Foundation Chair in Entrepreneurship with Brockhaus in that post.

In 1987, SLU established the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the John School of Business - which was the forerunner of the Center for Entrepreneurship - with Brockhaus as the director. In 1991, he was installed as the chair.

By then the Center had attracted the attention of James Malloy, president of the Jefferson Smurfit Corporation, who was very impressed with the entrepreneurship program at Babson College outside of Boston, and told their administration that he would like to fund a similar program in the Midwest. When he heard that SLU had a strong program, he thought the University would be a good candidate for his proposed effort.

Malloy met with University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., and agreed to fund the Jefferson Smurfit Center for Entrepreneurial Studies with Brockhaus as the director. Brockhaus continued to hold the positions as chairholder and director until his retirement in 2004. At that time, the positions were split with Jerry Katz, who Brockhaus brought on board as an entrepreneurial faculty member in 1987, becoming the chairholder and Kevin Schulte, who was hired as the center’s director.

 

Commitment to Education

Jerry Katz has been teaching the tools for success in business, entrepreneurship and management at the Cook School for 25 years.

Katz learned the art of small business from the ground up growing up in Memphis, Tenn., with a family that was either self-employed or worked in family-owned businesses. And he followed in their footsteps - at least in the beginning.

Along the way, he worked in his father’s department store and wholesaling business, and was a student entrepreneur with a consulting business where he employed some of his professors. One of his favorite memories was selling parts to soup up a cop car to the mechanic of Buford Pusser, best known as the sheriff in the movie “Walking Tall.”

But while entrepreneurship had always been part of his life, Katz shared Brockhaus’ feeling about the lack of educational programs and materials. Back then, there were not many textbooks, Apple Computer was just becoming visible and there was no Silicon Valley as it’s known today.

However, the climate was changing. Then President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were supporters of small business and believed entrepreneurship was made to build an economy. Research triangles tied to biotech and medical technology emerged. Missouri Small Business Development centers were opening in St. Louis to help mainstream and small businesses grow.

And the value of entrepreneurial research and education was being recognized and providing a foundation for the future.

“Today, we have 50 years of research building on itself. In 1987, there were less than 10 academic journals. Today, there are more than 150. “

Dr. Jerome Katz, Coleman Foundation Chair in Entrepreneurship´╗┐

Hailing his colleague, Katz says Brockhaus would consider the hundreds of students and members of the community it has helped as the greatest accomplishment of the Center for Entrepreneurship. They also are proud of their pioneer work that brought entrepreneurship — and SLU — to its current level.

“We became and continue to be a global leader in entrepreneurial education, Katz said. “Ten percent of American colleges use textbooks developed by SLU and we have a worldwide reputation for educational excellence.”

Katz says the Center has many programs to assist entrepreneurs, including the Mentor-in-Residence, SCORE and Habitat for Neighborhood Business. Katz heads the Billiken Angel Network and works with competitions, such as Idea-to-Product.

Through the Coleman Fellows program, a network of SLU faculty who are interested in entrepreneurship has sprung up all around the campus. They are tightly connected to the Center. For example, at Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology the entrepreneurial spirit is alive in the Kickstarter Tinker Lab under the leadership of engineering professor Sridhar Condoor, Ph.D.

 

A Group Effort

It’s not just the professors who have helped nurture the growth of the Center for Entrepreneurship. Administrative assistant Jeanne Rhodes had been with the University for 10 years when she joined the fledgling Center for Entrepreneurship and today she takes great pride in its work.

“It’s always been important to me to be part of a worthwhile endeavor where the products or services provided have true meaning and positive effects on the world.”

Jeanne Rhodes, Administrative Assistant for the Center for Entrepreneurship  

“I found that with the Center for Entrepreneurship and have thoroughly enjoyed my involvement in organizing events and educational programs for students and the community. I’ve met wonderful people over the years that have ventured forth with their entrepreneurial ideas and received the extra knowledge needed to continue in their businesses. The faculty and staff I work with are smart and caring people who always go that extra mile.”

And as the center marks its first quarter century of progress, there is that great sense of connection as a new leader - trained by that founding generation - has emerged.

Tim Hayden, who was named director of the Center for Entrepreneurship earlier this year, has been a SLU student (Cook ‘92; Grad ‘02) and adjunct professor, as well as business owner, who shared his own experiences with students and other small business owners. However, he didn’t always plan to be an entrepreneur.

Hayden’s parents worked in big business, but he had uncles on both sides of the family who were entrepreneurs. He saw the stability of his parent’s jobs but also reveled in the great stories his uncles shared about their work. He said he didn’t really think about becoming an entrepreneur until he started working for a small business himself.

“I thought, if this CEO can do it, I know I can do it,” Hayden said. “So I came back to SLU for my MBA — with an emphasis on entrepreneurship - to learn how to do it.”

Hayden benefitted from the Center’s founding fathers - Brockhaus and Katz - that were his mentors and the reason he started his first business. Blending the academic and experiential knowledge he gained, Hayden went on to start several successful small businesses.

Hayden reflected on how the view of entrepreneurship has changed during the last 25 years.

“In the 70s, 80s and 90s, an entrepreneur was sometimes seen as a crazy person, a risk taker or someone who couldn’t get - or keep - a job,” Hayden said. “Now people realize that every business you see today was created by an entrepreneur. The majority wants to try, but they just don’t know how to do it while giving themselves the best chance for success.”

“In classes, our guest entrepreneur speakers talk about their hardships, the rough road, and the mistakes they have made and learned from. They tell students that our academic programs are tremendous because they can learn how to solve some of the problems before they move into the real world.

Tim Hayden, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship 

“It’s much better to make the discoveries while in the protective ‘bubble’ of school instead of while you are striking out on your own when your entire livelihood is on the line.”

Hayden feels in the future there will be more education, mentoring and networking to help the next generation of entrepreneurs. He refers to it as “the past and present teaching the future.”

And for Brockhaus and Katz, what tops their list during 25 years of preparing students and providing leadership for a program and business model that will carry far into the future?

“I love helping people - and especially students - get started,” Brockhaus said. “It’s important to learn the skills needed to be an entrepreneur, to do research, to understand the process and the work involved.”

“Almost equally satisfying is seeing the students come into class wanting to be an entrepreneur. It’s important to know the value of being realistic and understand that while one idea may not work, another will — basically give it “the old college try” but know that sometimes you have to put it on the shelf and move on.”

Katz parallels Brockhaus feelings about the rewards of being involved in the Center.

“It’s rewarding to be part of the development of entrepreneurial ideas,” Katz said. “Student-driven entrepreneurship is an unending source of variety and fascination. They come in with all kinds of ideas and they never cease to amaze me.”

Ellen Harshman, Ph.D., J.D., dean of the John Cook School of Business, has watched the program develop and takes pride in what it offers SLU students.

“The opportunity to take an idea and actually move forward with it — even while they are still in school — inspires and excites our students.”

Ellen Harshman, Dean of the John Cook School of Business

“They have the benefit of strong academic leadership combined with business owners who have succeeded and failed and gone on to succeed again.”

Harshman adds that the one-on-one interaction and mentoring has helped students take the next step to successful businesses of their own. It also has created a culture of alumni with an entrepreneurial vision and a desire to give back.

 

Commitment to the Future

In 2006, SLU alumnus Doug Brown (BSBA ‘66) approached the center and Harshman with a proposal for Habitat for Neighborhood Business — an idea he believed strongly tied to SLU’s commitment to be “women and men for others.” Brown, a successful executive who had retired from Enterprise Leasing, envisioned a plan to help bring small businesses back to struggling neighborhoods. Harshman considered it a good fit for the Cook School and the idea moved forward.

Harshman added that the mentoring and leadership provided by Habitat and the Center ultimately led to the groundbreaking for a retail center in the historic Ville neighborhood just north of SLU that celebrated a grand opening in 2010 and is now fully occupied.

Since its beginning, the Center for Entrepreneurship has embraced a vision for the future of small business. From the Allsup Summer Entrepreneurship Academy and the Teen Entrepreneurship Symposium that reach out to area high school students with an interest in entrepreneurship to guest lectures and competitions to stimulate learning for SLU students and programs that reach into the community and partner with local businesses, it’s a vision that will carry forward to new generations.

And no doubt, Brockhaus, Katz, Hayden and Harshman believe that entrepreneurs will continue to take good ideas and develop them into the “next new thing” or “an old idea made new,” and that the entrepreneurial spirit thriving at SLU will continue to be a part of business at home and around the world.

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