Entrepreneurship Studies: Mason Introduces a New Method
By Lauren Soljanyk Lee
Entrepreneurship is defined as a process through which individuals identify opportunities, allocate resources, and create value. Because Mason’s new Entrepreneurship Studies minor is housed in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the focus is on ideas and development rather than strictly business, but the process is nonetheless similar, with Mason aiding and educating students to find opportunities and create a community of change, according to English professor Paul Rogers, faculty director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
To help students develop their ideas and cultivate them into something real, Mason is focusing on community building inside and outside the university. Breaking down the process, Rogers says, “We offer a helping hand, an opening of possibilities.” Rogers teaches the Introduction to Entrepreneurship course, and the minor’s interdisciplinary approach also includes courses on communication, the psychology of creativity, an introduction to business law, and the study of ethics.
He stresses the importance of ethical fiber as both a critical factor in entrepreneurial success and a prime motivator for students who see a problem in their world and want to do something about it. In a 2010 poll of 400 Mason undergraduate students, Rogers found that 88 percent of the students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “I want my academic degree to help me discover a way to make the world a better place, globally and or locally.”
“Yet,” Rogers says, “only 6 percent of the students said they knew about social entrepreneurship. To all of us at the Mason Center for Social Entrepreneurship, this means that Mason is ready for an entrepreneurship revolution because social entrepreneurs have created rigorous frameworks to make change happen at scale. Our students want them; they just don’t know about them yet.”
The program seeks to provide students with internships to help them develop their ideas and with local mentors from whom they can learn. “By developing connections among mentors, leaders, and students, people are able to understand these concepts in a way that a book or a lecture can’t teach,” says Rogers, whose Mason location offers a distinct advantage when it comes to meeting and working with local entrepreneurs. Social networking tools (or even just e-mail) also serve as a support to existing relationships, but the building of the relationships must take place in the context of personal interaction.
“The impulse is there. The energy is there,” says Rogers. “Our faculty is just fanning the flames of social entrepreneurship.” He also pointed to the work of Mason’s Center for Consciousness and Transformation as another organization that takes student ideals and strives to implement them in a tangible way. Both centers offer mentorship opportunities, and both are less than two years old.
It is through trial and error, success and failures that an entrepreneur finally succeeds. “Getting to Plan B, that’s where the real success is,” stresses Rogers. “You have to implement, adjust, change as you go. You are only as successful as your quickness to adapt. Plan A is not the success, it’s how you get to your final product.”
He pointed out Lost Dog Café in Arlington as a model of sustainability for an organization. The Lost Dog focuses on saving homeless animals but uses a restaurant as a way for the community to come together—underscoring the idea that if one intends to share their message effectively, there must also be a way for the organization to survive. “If their pizza isn’t any good, they’re not going to survive,” he says.
Mason students are already seeing success in the program. One Entrepreneurial Studies minor who was also a licensed massage therapist took her talents and business skills and applied them in building partnerships with clinics and medical practices to offer massage therapy to underprivileged individuals. Using the training she received at Mason, she is creating a new structure and working toward having a positive new impact in the community. For Rogers, this young woman’s story embodies the spirit of entrepreneurship: that even though social good is the bottom line, one needs to find an economically sustainable way to accomplish it.
“That’s the real story!” Rogers says. “Someone who came to Mason and is out there doing things that change the world for somebody else.”
Lauren Soljanyk Lee is an English major whose concentration is nonfiction writing and editing. She works with the Mason LIFE Program and will graduate in 2012.
This article appeared in a slightly different form in the English Department newsletter “Not Just Letters.”