On the first day of his introductory entrepreneurship class at Wittenberg University, Kevin S. Steidel asks his students to tell him their favorite hobby. They reply, but then they often add that they can't make a living doing what they love best, like fishing.
Then Steidel finds examples of people who are doing just that – with successful careers making rods, renting boats or videotaping fishing adventures, for example.
As the only liberal arts college in Ohio offering an entrepreneurship major, Wittenberg University has seen a growing interest in the topic, he said. The major is not only for students who want to start their own businesses, but also for those who want to rise to leadership positions, says Steidel, the Robert E. Ness Chair of Entrepreneurship at Wittenberg.
A liberal arts approach like Wittenberg's fosters thinkers who are independent and creative, he says.
“Thinking this way, being a self-motivated person who can solve the problems of a company, is incredibly valuable,” he adds.
Wittenberg has a number of entrepreneurship classes for the major, which has been offered since the early 2000s, says Steidel, who has owned several of his own businesses. The program is housed within the business school, so students receive a business degree with their entrepreneurship major.
In the last few years, Wittenberg has begun hosting additional entrepreneurial events and groups, including Tiger Tank (the Wittenberg take on the television show “Shark Tank,” giving students the opportunity to pitch business ideas to alumni), a food festival and a program for students who have already started their own businesses to meet and collaborate.
“By offering these extracurricular type of activities, you really get a sense of the student who wants to pursue this,” he says.
Steidel sees interest in entrepreneurship growing among both current students and their increasing number of Tiger Tank applications, as well as incoming classes. Eight high school students who will be Wittenberg freshmen in the fall were named entrepreneur scholarship recipients, compared to only four last year, Steidel says. More and more people want to pave their own way doing what they love.
“I think the stories of successful entrepreneurs – they have been a part of this generation's life unlike any before,” he says.
An entrepreneurship major does more than open up doors. Steidel says it “opens up your mind” and helps students identify just how many doors are out there as they seek a career. He adds that entrepreneurship students are those who want to think like a chief executive officer when they are 22 years old, not 52.
“Who wouldn't want to hire that person?” he says.