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Can entrepreneurism be taught?
By Jim Kendall | Columnist
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Published: 8/27/2009 12:06 AM

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The Chicago-based Coleman Foundation, which since 1981 has put $44 million into entrepreneurship programs at colleges and secondary schools across the country, is funding efforts to determine whether academic courses at community colleges can be the advantage that makes business owners more likely to succeed.

That raises two questions: Can entrepreneurism be taught? Would you and I be better business owners if we had started with, say, a course or two at the local community college to help us understand what being an entrepreneur really means?

There are no answers yet - unless you ask Donna Duffey.

"You can teach (entrepreneurism) with the right curriculum," she says.

Duffey's right curriculum covers such topics as "how to understand what entrepreneurism is, what it means to the economy and to your lifestyle, and how to draw upon your work and life experiences."

That's a pretty decent start. The problem for us is that Duffey is in Kansas, specifically at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, where she is professor and department chair, entrepreneurship.

The JCCC program includes 25 credit hours of entrepreneurship classes among the 64 hours required for the appropriate associate's degree; a three-course entrepreneurial component to the college's business skills certificate program, so that a student who earns a vocational skills certificate can also pick up own-your-own-business basics; and a 30-credit hour entrepreneurship and business package for students who already have a degree.

There is no identical program among Chicago-area community colleges, but that could change:

• For starters, Duffey will share her ideas at an October 11 best practices symposium that is part of the annual conference of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship. The conference will be held October 11-14 at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Rosemont.

• Activities include Elevator Grant opportunities that allow community college faculty to present a three-minute pitch for up to $7,500 in program funding. The Foundation hopes to award as much as $100,000 in Elevator Grants.

• The Coleman Foundation last year awarded nearly $500,000 to Chicago City Colleges to support development of a system wide entrepreneurship program.

• The Foundation also granted Truman College, a Chicago community college, $7,500 to help develop a child care entrepreneurship program.

Foundation President and CEO Mike Hennessey clearly believes the connection between "community colleges that need to be active participants in (local) economic development" and an effective academic-side entrepreneurship curriculum is a natural - which explains why Coleman Foundation funding is available to help develop entrepreneurship programs.

Still, Hennessey says, "It's not enough to bang the drum loudly. We have to make certain (there is) a cross-campus curriculum that is what tomorrow's business owners need - and that there is an organized delivery system to reach the widest range of individuals."

• Questions, comments to Jim Kendall, © 2009 121 Marketing Resources, Inc.