Every year Christine Rainwater asks her Washington, D.C.-based undergraduate business students the same question on their first day of class: are any of you interested in starting a business?
“Ten years ago, I would only get two or three students to raise their hands,” said Rainwater, a DeVry University professor and president of the Small Business Advisory Firm. “Now, the majority of my students do – and some share ideas even before class begins. It really represents a new mindset as students take a more entrepreneurial approach to learning. I think they’re surrounded by fast-growing startups like Uber and GrubHub, and they feel inspired to quickly bring their own business ideas to life.”
Business enterprise shows like Shark Tank, Beyond the Tank, and How I Made My Millions are indicative of a bigger business trend: renewed growth in small business and startup ventures. According to the 2015 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity and National Trends, the Startup Activity Index rose in 2015 – reversing a downward trend that began in 2010 – allowing the largest year-over-year increase in the past twenty years.
“Students see new, successful companies run by young creatives whose passion propelled them to success faster than climbing the traditional corporate ladder,” said Rainwater. “Not only is this inspiring more people to do the same, but it’s encouraging a whole new type of student to head back to school looking for resume-building experience that can jump-start job prospects right out of the program.”
Shaping a New Culture of Entrepreneurs
Today’s college student is different than past generations. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 75 percent of undergraduate students today could be considered “non-traditional.” They are often busy, working adults that have to balance the demands of school, work and family life.
Several non-traditional students need colleges that can fit into their busy schedules of work and family responsibilities. Moreover, many are coming back to school because they want to advance their current career or move to a new field quickly. Non-traditional students want their degree to speak for itself, demonstrating their capabilities and value.
That’s why Rainwater puts hands-on learning at the center of her curriculum.
“In my Senior Projects course, I challenge my students to explore their own neighborhoods, develop business plans for local companies and even kick-start businesses of their own,” she said. “It’s always rewarding to see their eyes light up when they first come up with a viable idea, or see the impact they’ve made in their communities.”
The approach has given students real-life experience and has encouraged collaboration with local organizations. Online grocery store Relay Foods enlisted the help of Rainwater’s students to revamp their salsa canning and distribution plan. As a result, the students were able to help the grocer increase brand awareness and customer appeal for their signature salsa. Another student turned her passion for making premium homemade soap into a business, eventually turning the side job into an online boutique.
The Benefits of Breakthrough for Rising Innovators
Outside the classroom, Rainwater is the president of the Small Business Advisory Firm, a network focused on meeting the educational, networking and program-specific requirements to compete in the federal and private-sector contracting environment.
“In the past, people had to go through an extensive process to start their own businesses,” said Rainwater. “Today, technology has removed many of the barriers that used to stand between big thinkers and entrepreneurship.”
Rainwater considers immersive learning an imperative tool for business students’ professional development. She believes that it not only fosters creative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit, but also creates a safe environment for students to build tangible skills that can be immediately implemented in the workplace – across a variety of roles and practices.
To help today’s students learn more about starting a new business, DeVry University offers a small business management and entrepreneurship degree specialization within its College of Business & Management. At the graduate level, its Keller Graduate School of Management offers an entrepreneurship concentration within its MBA program.
“Right now, U.S. startup activity is rising for the first time in five years, showing entrepreneurs are the most hopeful they have been in several years,” said Rainwater. “And the beauty of these entrepreneurship programs is they not only teach students how to grow businesses, but they arm them with skills to succeed when they hit obstacles along the way – setting them up for long-term success.”