Towson University is banking on more students like Anne Marie Rose, a 19-year-old marketing major who started her own company. Rose has big dreams for the jewelry business she launched in her Finksburg home two years ago: To transform Anne Marie Rose Jewelry Designs into a national brand.
Such ambitions are prompting hundreds of colleges and universities such as Towson to focus more energy and resources on teaching the know-hows of becoming an entrepreneur.
Schools are adding more courses and other activities to cultivate the business ideas of budding workers who are increasingly bypassing corporate jobs for their own startups.
Towson's new program starts in the fall, joining many others in establishing minors and majors in an entrepreneurship education boom.
The move to embrace this academic discipline comes as today's college students see the business world differently than past generations. With unprecedented access to technology, students can start a business with much less capital and manpower than ever before.
And after watching their parents lose jobs, pensions and other benefits over the years, many students see going out on their own as offering better opportunities and flexibility - despite the risks.
"They're smart and more educated than any generation, and they're confident," said Vivian Armor, director of the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "[They're saying] 'I'm not going to have job security.' They don't want to work for a company for a long time. They like the idea of creating things for themselves and making things fit for them."
Critics, however, argue that some of the most well-known entrepreneurs have learned on the job and by working their way up the ladder. Others question whether education can make up for the lack of what some see as innate qualities such as creativity and independence.
Yet, young people are starting their own ventures even before graduating. Some arrive on campus with thriving businesses. And the popularity of entrepreneurship education comes as startup businesses have become an important facet of the economy's growth.
To meet the need, Towson's College of Business and Economics is offering an entrepreneurship track starting this fall. By the following academic year, officials hope to offer general education courses in personal finance and entrepreneurship, which mean all students must take them to graduate.
The Johns Hopkins University, University of Baltimore, Morgan State University and Frostburg State University are among Maryland institutions that offer courses, a minor or a concentration on entrepreneurship. In partnership with UB, the Maryland Institute College of Art offers a graduate-level certificate in creative entrepreneurship.
At the University of Maryland, the Hinman Campus Entrepreneurship Opportunities (CEO) program, established in 1999 as a first-of-its-kind "living-learning" community in College Park, houses about 90 students from different majors in the same dormitory. They have access to their own computer lab, copy machine, community room and entrepreneurial courses. Some of the program's 300 alumni have established businesses in emergency warning systems, information technology services and event planning.
For Anik Singal, 24, the program was a big reason why he transferred to College Park from UMBC, where he was studying pre-med.
"I have always been business-minded as far as I could remember," Singal said. "I started to realize science, although I enjoyed it, was not a passion. And the business bug kept biting me."
Under the Hinman program, Singal launched Affiliate Classroom, an online training program that helps people start Internet affiliate marketing businesses. The company has trained more than 13,000 clients and grown to more than 10 employees.
"The biggest thing is I did not come from a family of businessmen. I had no idea what I was doing with launching a business," he said.
After graduating in 2005, Singal turned to his mentors at the program when the business took off. They referred him to the university's VentureAccelerator, which helps faculty and students start new companies based on technology innovation. Earlier this year, Affiliate Classroom was accepted into UM's incubator called the Technology Advancement Program.
At Towson, entrepreneurial ventures rank fifth among the top 100 sources of employment for graduates. It's first among alumni of the university's College of Business and Economics.
Shohreh Kaynama, dean of the business school who is leading efforts to create the entrepreneurship program, points to her internship course this summer as another example: Nearly half of her students intend to start their own businesses.
Kaynama hopes to establish a minor and major in entrepreneurship, open to all students, as well as create other opportunities such as scholarships and endowed faculty members. The broader mission is to make entrepreneurship part of "Towson University's DNA," she said.
Not all educators and some other skeptics believe entrepreneurship is a skill that can be taught. Some well-known entrepreneurs, such as Microsoft's Bill Gates and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, dropped out of college to pursue their business ideas with enormous success.
"You could certainly teach the functional aspects like marketing and pricing models," said James V. Green, director of the Hinman program. "Could you teach creativity, innovation and leadership? The ways you go about it, different people are trying different things."
Of course, not all students will start businesses. But such education also can help them succeed at their corporate jobs and elsewhere, advocates say.
"It promotes and engenders creativity, innovation and resourcefulness," Kaynama said.
Marjorie Smelstor, vice president for Kauffman Campuses and higher education programs at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit group that encourages entrepreneurship, likened the debate over entrepreneurship education to the one about whether teachers are made or born.
Some people "innately understand how to be entrepreneurial," Smelstor said. "But the reality is that if you believe in the principle of education ... then we think that there is a role for even natural entrepreneurs to have ideas tweaked and get inspiration from the educational process."
Today, about 1,906 two- and four-year colleges and universities nationwide offer courses, programs and degrees in entrepreneurship, according to the Kauffman Foundation. Two decades ago, there were fewer than 300 schools.
During that period, entrepreneurship education has spread from the confines of business schools to engineering and technology schools to liberal arts colleges, the foundation said.
Last year, the Kauffman Foundation, which created a campus initiative in 2003, provided $25.5 million in grants to nine universities, including UMBC, to make entrepreneurship education a campuswide opportunity.
At UMBC, which received $2 million, officials are working to expand awareness, education and experience for students through the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship. Among ideas is to develop a certificate or minor in entrepreneurship at the undergraduate and graduate levels, said Armor, the center director. Another is to provide internships at startup companies.
Besides courses, UM's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship holds a weekly business ideas session where students can pitch their plans, which have ranged from creating a Craigslist for College Park students to developing a new medical device. The center awards $500 to the winning idea monthly.
The center is host to an annual business competition called Cupid's Cup, whose prize money donated by alumni and Under Armour Inc. Chief Executive Officer Kevin Plank totals $22,500. The engineering school also sponsors an annual $50,000 business plan competition for students, faculty and alumni.
In starting her Carroll County jewelry business, Rose educated herself, borrowing books on marketing, business plans and psychology from the local library. And she took her products - necklaces, bracelets and earrings made of semiprecious stones, crystals, freshwater pearls and silver - to art fairs, festivals and other shows.
So far, she has sold her products to about seven retail shops in the area. During the past month and a half, she made $5,000 in sales.
Despite her early successes, Rose said, she has more to learn, especially as she looks to expand distribution. As Towson's entrepreneurial program grows, Rose said she hopes to take part.
"There is management; how to write a training manual for employees. And organizational skills and things you need to master if you want to grow," Rose said. "And problem-solving skills. They are very, very important."
By the numbers
Two- and four-year colleges and universities offering courses, programs and degrees in entrepreneurship
Students enrolled in an entrepreneurship course
Baccalaureate degrees awarded in entrepreneurship
Academic departments in entrepreneurship.
Programs offering degree and/or concentration at doctoral level
Courses in entrepreneurship offered in two- and four-year colleges and universities
[Source: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation]