A successful academic turns entrepreneur very successfully. He's now a university president. Stephen Spinelli has much to share on the topic of entrepreneurship.
Describe your entrepreneurial background.
My seminal moment occurred as an undergraduate at McDaniel College in Maryland. My football coach Jim Hindman had made a lot of money in the nursing home business. He looked at the world through an opportunity lens. He was the first person that I knew who could frame problems and solutions and then show how ambition could create value. The desired outcome was prosperity - but in a better world.
How successful was your Jiffy Lube venture?
Even though I was a co-founder from the outset in 1979, I also became Jiffy Lube's largest franchisee, with 58 stores throughout New York and New England. I sold them to Pennzoil in 1991, retaining ownership of much of the real estate. However, I'm jealous of my personal financial statement. Let's just say I achieved all my financial goals and then some.
Are you personally investing in the entrepreneurial activities of others?
Yes. I'm presently involved in three startup deals. I look for businesspeople who have a clear perspective of market demand in a rising tide environment. A nimble and accurate entrepreneur is of real importance to me.
Is being an entrepreneur a temporary or permanent career?
Both. An entrepreneur is focussed on the opportunity of today. But eventually the entrepreneur is infected for life.
Is an entrepreneur the product of a personal evolution? Or can he or she be taught?
Yes to both. You will evolve. I guarantee it. But if you can learn, you can be taught. Two types of people cannot learn entrepreneurship -- fools and geniuses. Geniuses know everything already, and fools cannot be taught. Every successful entrepreneur of my acquaintance always tells me what he or she has learned.
What might college do to accelerate the process?
Don't be so married to one pedagogy or teaching style. Instead, expose students to numerous entrepreneurs, especially those involved in various stages of the success process. Look for opportunities to expose your students to 'compressed experiences.'
Where are the hotbeds of entrepreneurship awareness in higher education today?
Babson College is the epicenter of entrepreneurship education, and it has been for years. They are culturally committed to entrepreneurship education. I believe their new president Len Schlesinger is doing an excellent job. Also noteworthy is Sloan/MIT and Stanford. Wharton has a highly engaged entrepreneurship curriculum. Baruch College has an interesting urban perspective on entrepreneurship.
Why is higher education itself an industry ripe for entrepreneurial success?
It's a highly evolved market. At the risk of sounding too simple, we used to provide liberal arts to rich kids. Now higher education is democratized. And access to information is 24/7 everywhere in the world. The brightest minds among us are trying to figure out how to satisfy an enormous demand. That's a cauldron of chaos that entrepreneurs love.
Where do you want to be five years from now?
At Philadelphia University we've achieved our goal of becoming a model for professional university education in the 21st century. So in five years, I'd like to be reviewing the list of candidates vying to become president here.
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