The Entrepreneurial Mindset on Campus

In last week’s AIEmail (, we discussed an employer survey that listed “entrepreneurial experience” as a sought-after quality when making new hires. How can you develop that quality? There may be a number of ways, but this week we’ll look at a particular college initiative that is seeking to foster this very attitude in students on a number of campuses across the country.

Founded at the University of Texas by Dr. Richard Cherwitz, Intellectual Entrepreneurship, or IE, is built around the ideas of engagement and ownership ( In the same way that an entrepreneur must commit to multiple roles in a fledgling business—from marketing to website design to fixing the copy machine—the IE philosophy is that college students should be similarly committed to their own intellectual lives. By taking on ambitious projects that directly relate to their most passionate interests, students in the program cross disciplinary boundaries, learn by doing, and develop a new perspective on school and work. The students’ testimonials ( suggest that the experience is achieving the desired result of fostering engagement.

In this context, the word “entrepreneur” has a broader-than-usual meaning, referring not only to starting a business, but also to a way of thinking. In a recent interview with AIEmail, Dr. Cherwitz said, “This way of thinking is about ownership, accountability, innovation, and risk-taking. The business world doesn’t own those ideas; those are ideas that can revolutionize how people approach education.”

In fact, he noted, the program was originally called “professional development.” He explained, “That name sent the wrong message. It sounded like something we were doing to remediate problems, when what we really want is for people to identify and communicate their own value.”

Despite the program’s growth and success—it has received very positive attention ( —Dr. Cherwitz still sees room for improvement: “The initiative is doing a lot of good, but the pace is slower than I’d like. I’m in this weird reality of being a professor as well as an evangelist for this idea.”

This approach is creating a positive impact on particular lives and particular campuses. Can the effects be felt more broadly? Can there be a ripple effect that spreads into the broader community? In next week’s AIEmail, we’ll look at an effort to achieve that rippling-out effect, as IE partners with a community group to get teens excited about developing skills that can help them academically and professionally.