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Wanted: Professors of Entrepreneurship

Four years ago, Richard Schulze, the founder and CEO of Richmond (Minn.)-based Best Buy (BBY), donated $25 million to endow an entrepreneurship center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. The endowment included funding for three chairs, but so far, only one of the high-profile teaching posts has been filled.

The problem is widespread in academia (see BW Online, "The Empty Chairs"). While universities are having little troubling attracting donors, it's proving more difficult to find professors with the right mix of academic and business credentials to teach in the growing number of entrepreneurship programs. SmallBiz contributor Liz Garone recently spoke with Schulze about the current supply-and-demand problem and the importance of entrepreneurial education. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q: Why did your choose to endow an entrepreneurship center?

A: It's my opinion that our country's largest advantage as a free-world economy is the opportunity it gives individuals to create new, exciting, and meaningful businesses. As an entrepreneur myself, I understand both the challenges and opportunities a startup faces. So I chose to support this kind of education.

Q: You're a successful entrepreneur who didn't attend college. Why then was entrepreneurship education important to you?

A: In one word: preparation. A well-rounded education helps people think comprehensively and examine their options. Logically, that should reduce the number of mistakes, which, of course, will save time and money.

Q: There's currently a shortage of entrepreneurship faculty. Will supply catch up to demand?

A: As our national economy continues to shift to new disciplines and direction, the concepts around new business startups will intensify. Colleges and universities around the country will have to respond to the need and demand.

Q: How essential is it that entrepreneurship programs have faculty with PhDs in entrepreneurship?

A: I'm not sure how important that is or will be. I know that professors with a business background will have an edge when it comes to understanding the challenges of implementation and execution.

Q: Would you tell other entrepreneurs thinking of making endowments to these programs to wait?

A: I'd say, invest now to ensure higher quality, as those schools that move fastest will surely have an advantage.

Q: If you had the chance to do it again, would you get a degree in entrepreneurship?

A: Absolutely. I'm sure our [positive] outcomes would have happened faster and at less cost if I'd had a more formal preparation. In today's world, time is a meaningful competitive advantage.

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