The year 2008 marked the 50th anniver­sary of entre­pre­neur­ship edu­ca­tion at North­eastern. Over the half-century—highlighted by inno­v­a­tive part­ner­ships, inter­dis­ci­pli­nary pro­grams and world-​​class faculty—generations of stu­dents have gained promi­nence as founders of busi­nesses, ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists and leaders of eco­nomic devel­op­ment and growth.

North­eastern has done a superb job of teaching and cre­ating pro­grams and activ­i­ties on entre­pre­neur­ship,” said John Friar, senior aca­d­emic spe­cialist of entre­pre­neur­ship and inno­va­tion. “Turn over a rock,” he said, “and you find a fac­ulty member or a stu­dent doing some­thing with entrepreneurship.”

The university’s long his­tory of entre­pre­neur­ship edu­ca­tion began in 1958 when the uni­ver­sity teamed with the United States Small Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion (SBA) to create a 12-​​course cer­tifi­cate pro­gram for small busi­ness owners. From 1959 to 1976, North­eastern main­tained the largest Small Busi­ness Insti­tute in the country, con­vening evening classes, one-​​day sem­i­nars and a monthly speaker series for busi­ness owners and man­agers, which accu­mu­lated 160 mem­bers during its first three years.

In 1960, North­eastern cre­ated its first MBA course in entre­pre­neur­ship, “Financing a Startup,” and in 1966 teamed with the Col­lege of Phar­macy for a work­shop on designing a retail phar­macy. Today, stu­dents can earn a master’s in applied nutri­tion with a spe­cial­iza­tion in entre­pre­neur­ship, as well as in infor­matics, nursing admin­is­tra­tion, music industry and engineering.

As an example of the university’s cross-​​disciplinary approach to entre­pre­neurial edu­ca­tion, 400 music industry stu­dents, Friar said, take four courses on starting and man­aging a music busi­ness. In addi­tion, the School of Tech­no­log­ical Entre­pre­neur­ship (STE), cre­ated in 2004, is the nation’s first stand-​​alone school to pro­vide real-​​world expe­ri­ence to aspiring entre­pre­neurs on how to create technology-​​based busi­nesses, market sci­ence– and engineering-​​based prod­ucts and obtain the financing nec­es­sary to fund growth. An MIT study found North­eastern stu­dents second to only MIT stu­dents in launching tech­no­log­ical star­tups, Friar said.

North­eastern has one of the oldest, biggest and broadest entre­pre­neur­ship pro­grams in the country,” Friar said. “We are nation­ally known as a top-​​rated under­grad­uate pro­gram and for our large co-​​op pro­gram in entre­pre­neur­ship. When I speak about our pro­grams at con­fer­ences, how­ever, others are in dis­be­lief that North­eastern is now in its 51st year of entre­pre­neur­ship. The majority of uni­ver­si­ties have devel­oped pro­grams only in the last 10 years.”

In 1968, the uni­ver­sity put forth the first pro­gram for minority entre­pre­neurs, and
Harvey Krentzman became the first North­eastern pro­fessor to pub­lish a text­book about the field. In 1973, the uni­ver­sity cre­ated an under­grad­uate con­cen­tra­tion in entre­pre­neur­ship and tenured its first pro­fessor, an unusual feat, espe­cially since entre­pre­neur­ship did not become a legit­i­mate aca­d­emic pur­suit until the mid-​​to-​​late ‘80s, Friar said. “It’s hard to get tenured fac­ulty in entre­pre­neur­ship,” he said. “Most fac­ulty mem­bers are adjuncts who come from industry. But we did it in 1973.”

In 1991, the uni­ver­sity cre­ated the Family Busi­ness Center, one of the oldest and largest in the country ded­i­cated to helping the gen­er­a­tions within family busi­nesses keep their busi­nesses and fam­i­lies intact. In 1996, North­eastern estab­lished the Entre­pre­neur­ship Center to help stu­dents start their own com­pa­nies. As a result of the center’s activ­i­ties, the Princeton Review ranked North­eastern as the fourth most entre­pre­neurial campus in the country.

And, in 1996, the Social Entre­pre­neur­ship Center intro­duced stu­dents to the power of microlending in devel­oping coun­tries. Every year stu­dents travel to Africa or Cen­tral America to help local entrepreneurs.

Entre­pre­neur­ship Today

The Internet boom of the mid-’90s, Friar said, drove more stu­dents to con­sider entre­pre­neur­ship. A dra­matic increase in schol­arly jour­nals and research, too, per­me­ated the field.

Every­body said the Internet was going to change the busi­ness model,” Friar said. “There was this new tech­nology led by startup com­pa­nies and there was tremen­dous stu­dent interest in it. Stu­dents began seeking out entre­pre­neur­ship courses.”

Whereas stu­dents today con­tinue to demand an entre­pre­neurial edu­ca­tion, the down­trodden economy craves an influx in job cre­ation from small firms. During the 2001 reces­sion, Friar said that while big com­pa­nies shed jobs, sub­stan­tial growth occurred in small busi­ness. “Coun­tries with higher levels of entre­pre­neur­ship have higher levels of eco­nomic growth,” he said, adding that one-​​person firms operate 74 per­cent of all busi­nesses in the United States.

In the past, mas­sive gov­ern­ment pro­grams were used to increase the eco­nomic via­bility of par­tic­ular coun­tries. “Those didn’t work,” Friar said, so the poli­cies have changed to sup­port people to build their own busi­nesses to pro­mote “endoge­nous growth.”

But more research is needed on the cor­re­la­tion between entre­pre­neur­ship and eco­nomic and social devel­op­ment so that entre­pre­neurs can begin to solve prob­lems related to poverty, drugs and, also, the environment.

Entre­pre­neur­ship has been in ascen­dancy for a while,” Friar said. “People see it as a way to solve a bunch of prob­lems: to get poor areas up to speed, to grow the economy. Coun­tries such as India and China who have freed up entre­pre­neurs have seen their economies sky­rock­eting. Coun­tries which kill entre­pre­neur­ship… see their economies stagnate.”

To develop a fur­ther under­standing of entre­pre­neur­ship and the economy, North­eastern recently hired fac­ulty with Ph.D.’s in the field as well as addi­tional researchers for its Family Busi­ness Center. In addi­tion, fac­ulty and staff with STE are trying to build an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research program.

We have to build a crit­ical mass of researchers,” Friar said. “We are already known for our teaching, pro­grams and co-​​op. Now we need to get known for our inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research.”