Focus, Higher Education, and Small Business & Startups

Davenport looking to enhance its entrepreneurial programs

August 23, 2013
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It’s no secret Grand Rapids is proudly cultivating an entrepreneurial culture.

Davenport University is watering those seeds by enhancing its programs available to entrepreneurs, said Michael Bowers, dean of the Davenport Donald W. Maine College of Business.

University officials are discussing many changes to the curriculum, faculty and even facilities in order to keep the local entrepreneurial culture thriving, he said.

“I’m trying to expand that conversation to include Davenport as a place to come if you want to grow a company and build jobs,” he said. “You’ll see us start talking a lot about building high-value, high-growth companies and creating a new generation of firms that would be great places to work and contribute to an economic environment people could enjoy.”

Davenport’s entrepreneurial initiative, still in the discussion phase at this point, has two major focuses, Bowers said.

The first is student-based and involves a sophisticated, revitalized entrepreneurial curriculum for graduates and undergraduate programs, including classes on business creation, start-up financing and idea marketing, he said.

The second part is community-based, and involves creating a bridge between Davenport and the business community to create opportunities for both the local economy and the students.

It’s the second part that Bowers finds especially exciting.

“We are still putting together our plans for the Entrepreneurship Center and hope to have something rolling out here in the next few months, “ he said. “But we need to revisit our curriculum; we need to bring some additional talent to the faculty. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting there.”

Although the Entrepreneurship Center, as Bowers called it, is still probably a few years away, some things, such as increasing education in ideation — the process of idea creation — already are on the table, he said.

As Davenport begins to outgrow its Grand Rapids location at 6191 Kraft Ave SE, there’s even discussion for a new college of business building — but again, all this is in the discussion phase, he said.

Davenport also is looking to take advantage of its college of technology, of which Bowers has just been appointed interim dean. Melding technology with business is another way Davenport wants to increase its attractiveness to entrepreneurs, he said.

“We have the ability to work together with the two faculties in the two colleges to create technology companies that other colleges would have a hard time doing, just because they don’t have that type of synergistic arrangement,” he said.

Is it is easy forming a curriculum around entrepreneurs? Not always, Bowers said. Entrepreneurs, brilliant and driven as they may be, aren’t always great students, he said. Great students need to be able to study things in an orderly learning style, he said, because that’s the way the U.S. education system teaches.

But exams, homework and grades to rate performance might not be the best style of training for an entrepreneur, he said.  

“Entrepreneurs tend to be fractured folks. … They can handle many things at one time but not be able to focus on one thing for any length of time at all,” he said. “Consequently, a lot of them tend to be C or B students because they like having five or six balls in the air at one time. They’re bored otherwise.”

Grand Rapids is a perfect environment for entrepreneurial educational training, Bowers said, noting the recent development of young business hubs — “nodes,” as he called them — coming together and creating a type of café society of startups.

It’s this type of collaborating energy that keeps the creative types around, he said. Pockets of entrepreneurs seem to pop up around areas respected for quality higher-education platforms. Thus, if it’s true that entrepreneurs saved Grand Rapids’ economy, as was indicated by a recent report from Grand Valley State University, then maybe it’s safe to say Grand Rapids’ entrepreneurs were saved by higher education.

“I think it has to do with having a reasonably young population, and having good institutions of higher education, like Davenport, Grand Valley, Hope and Calvin,” he said.

“It also has to do with having a certain artistic community. Even though they’re not business people, having those folks around gets the creative juices flowing and gets people to start thinking they could have a career doing something other than (typical) businesses.”

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