There are now 2,100 colleges and universities in the US that have entrepreneurship programs, yet the number of new businesses per capita being created, especially those by persons aged 20-34, is at its all time lowest points in 2014-2015, since the Kauffman Center began gathering data in 1996. At the University of Virginia (UVA), the Entrepreneurship wave came and we now offer most of the programs that peer institutions offer; however, there was no real evidence that any more student entrepreneurial projects were moving forward than before. It begged the question, was there a huge blind spot in actually cultivating a Founder’s mindset?
Using the entrepreneurial approach’s first step, customer discovery, we had over 300 in-person interviews with students who self-identified as entrepreneurial, and found that the plethora of entrepreneurship programs supported some students, but not others. For the students just starting out with entrepreneurship, the current offerings were more than enough. Though, once students pursued a project outside conventional programs, the current offerings were not helping them move forward. Yet, these are the students who carry the seed of our institution’s entrepreneurial culture.
The main unmet need for these students was accountability from peers. Because of time constraints, it was hard for them to find other students seriously pursuing projects. Finding like-minded founders was pure chance, due to UVA’s broader counter-entrepreneurial student culture of overstretching commitments and risk-aversion. These students serious about pursuing their projects were frankly tired of encountering, in their words, “wantrepreneurs."
We thought, what if we aggregated their separate founder mindsets into a community that offers accountability in order to incubate and augment a founder’s culture? Would we then be able to propagate the entrepreneurial mindset throughout the university and shift the mainstream culture to be “more entrepreneurial?”
Works in Progress is a community of dedicated, passionate student founders across the University. It is not a club or class, it is a peer-driven community. The main purpose of Works in Progress is to build an effective support system within the University for its most advanced student entrepreneurs, who inherently possess the strongest entrepreneurial mindset and culture within the University community. At this time, last year, there were 10 known student entrepreneurial projects that were being worked on, and the majority of them were on the verge of quitting due to other priorities. A year later, we’ve pulled together 26 active projects into an active community.
What we’ve found is that the entrepreneurial mindset is caught, not taught. The entrepreneurial mindset is delicate in a single person, but, when strong in many, is most infectious through social interactions between peers. Culture develops through a larger active peer community of shared values, and with community comes the positive peer pressure for perseverance.
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