By Nichole L. Torres
So you've decided to pursue an education in entrepreneurship—one of today's hottest fields of study. But settling on where to spend the next few years toiling in lecture halls and seminars isn't a decision to be taken lightly—especially with so many dynamic and varied programs available. With that in mind, Entrepreneur and The Princeton Review offer our fifth annual listing of the top 50 entrepreneurship education programs in the country. There's something for everyone in our ranking, which highlights the facts and figures every prospective student must know about the nation's top 25 undergraduate and top 25 graduate programs. But don't stop there—there's so much more to know before you can choose the right program for you.
"The most important thing is to understand what you want out of your entrepreneurship program," says Sherry Hoskinson, director of the University of Arizona's McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship in Tucson, ranked third and fourth on our graduate and undergraduate lists, respectively. "There are programs that exist to deliver as many different opportunities as students are looking for." Some programs help students launch businesses; others teach how to become an entrepreneur. Some focus on engaging in the local business community, while others gear their curricula toward woman-owned or environmentally conscious businesses.
The key to finding your perfect match is asking the right questions. E-mail the school and ask the director or advisor about the program's benefits and focus. Tell them your entrepreneurship goals and ask how their school can help you achieve them. Says Hoskinson, "Entrepreneurship is a hot topic, so people are going to be willing to answer you."
Asking questions and doing in-depth research led Karen Jashinsky, 30, to our No. 1-ranked graduate entrepreneurship program at the University of Southern California. She wanted to be in a city with a lot of business opportunities and Los Angeles fit, so she checked out all the offerings of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC's Marshall School of Business. "It was the best decision I've ever made," says Jashinsky, who was featured in our "Biz 101" column last year. "USC has such a strong alumni network. If someone has gone to USC in the past, they're willing to pick up the phone and introduce you to people if they can. The Greif Center is like a close-knit family." Jashinsky, who graduated in 2006 with an MBA, has been building her teen fitness company, O2 Max Fitness, since 2005. Launching this fall as an independent vendor renting space in a local Manhattan Beach, California, gym called Spectrum, Jashinsky projects first-year sales to reach $500,000 and plans to open a stand-alone location. She credits her entrepreneurship courses with helping her shape and target her business idea.
What aspiring entrepreneurs really want to know is if their business idea will fly. Thomas J. O'Malia, director of the Greif Center, says the first thing incoming students learn is how to evaluate feasibility. Students are drilled in the importance of meticulously researching and evaluating a market opportunity and finding solid proof for the concept. It helps that many of the professors are veteran entrepreneurs themselves. "The majority of [the] people teaching are ‘prac-ademics'—[people who have] made and missed at least one payroll," says O'Malia. "We're dealing with a culture that blends the best of academic research with the people who have been out doing it."
A feasibility study led USC MBA graduate Alton Johnson, 38, to create his specialty beverage company, Bossa Nova Beverage Group. "We learned a great structure for evaluating opportunity—looking at things from the [perspective] of what changes are taking place in the market, how the market is growing and what the opportunities are," he says. After researching the antioxidant properties of the Brazilian açai berry, he saw a market prospect for a healthy drink incorporating the fruit. Launching the Los Angeles company in 2005, Johnson credits his entrepreneurial education with sharpening his business skills and teaching him to better articulate his vision, which has helped push Bossa Nova's sales to $25 million.