Nurturing a Global Outlook for Entrepreneurs

According to Dr. Robert Hisrich, entrepreneurs can help make the world go round – especially if they look at the world beyond their borders.

“People who think globally tend to be more open-minded and creative, that is the heartbeat of entrepreneurs,” says Hisrich, Garvin Chair for Global Entrepreneurship at the Thunderbird School of Global Management graduate school.  “Not only do we have these global thinkers here at Thunderbird, but we have people who really aspire to be their own boss and create companies in both the profit and non-profit sectors. It’s just a wonderful environment … to create a center and programs here.”

The newest program is the Thunderbird School of Global Management Center for Global Entrepreneurship (CGE). Hisrich is the director of the center and architect of the programming.

Thunderbird is regarded as the world’s leading institution in the education of global managers. Based in Scottsdale, Arizona and with operations in the United States, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Mexico, Central and South America and China, Thunderbird is unique in its commitment to producing global leaders who contribute to sustainable prosperity.

Ranked No. 1 in international business by The Wall Street Journal’s poll of corporate recruiters, U.S. News and World Report, and the Financial Times, Thunderbird’s unique curriculum is based on the principle that to do business on a global scale, executives must know not only the intricacies of business, but also understand the customs of other countries and be able to communicate in different cultures.

The center began operations in 2005, funded by a $60 million gift from businessman and Thunderbird alumnus Samuel Garvin. The goal was to build an entrepreneurship component throughout the curriculum and to establish a world-class center for global entrepreneurship. “The president recognized that a large portion of our alumni were entrepreneurs and that our students wanted a strong entrepreneurship program,” says Hisrich, who also sits on the faculty of the University of Ljubljiana (Slovenia), The Technical University of Vienna and Queensland University of technology in Australia, and has authored numerous books on business and entrepreneurship. “The latest survey of our alumni, done a couple of months ago, shows that 37% of our alumni are entrepreneurs, which is probably higher than any university I know of in the world.”

The program has four areas of focus, organized into centers for excellence — the Global Family Enterprise Center, the Global Center for Innovation and Creativity and Corporate Venturing, the Global Social Enterprise Center and the Global Venture Center.  Each center has a three-pronged thrust of an academic component, a theoretical/research component and a supply and implementation component.

“Every student has to take the Global Enterprise course,” says Hisrich. “Basically this is an introduction to entrepreneurship. They learn all about what an entrepreneur is and what a global enterprise is and how to do these things on an ethically- and socially-conscious basis.”

In addition to Global Enterprise, the entrepreneurship curriculum includes the Global Business Plan course, which covers everything from coming up with the opportunity to developing the business plan to launching the business. Managing the Global Family Business addresses the concerns of family-owned businesses, which constitute 82% of all businesses in the world. Other courses cover financing the business, valuing the business, and growing the business. All of these courses have a global perspective.

The center also sponsors various non-credit courses, including seminars and workshops like the Global Family Enterprise Program held in the early spring. “Family businesses from all over the world, this year including Europe, India, China, Mexico and the United States, come and have this three-day experience,” Hisrich explains.  “They get to know each other and, hopefully, there’s some business done between them. We present seminars and it is led by Ernesto Poza, who has the leading selling book in family-business and is on our staff. We also do the Global Family Business conference in China. We do a two-day version of the four-day program.”

Other seminars include “Global Entrepreneurship: Starting Your New Venture.” It’s a one-day intensive course designed for business people leaving the corporate world and starting their own firms. “We also have a two-day seminar on corporate innovation and intra-preneurship,” says Hisrich. “We have companies from all over the country come to participate. They learn how to actually create new businesses within businesses and create new products.”

Also under Innovation and Creativity, he adds, “We have the Innovation Challenge in the fall, where teams come from all over the world to compete for a first prize of $20,000. The first round of competition is online and we have an international group of judges to judge the contest. Out of the second round, ten teams are selected and paid to come here to Arizona for the final round. We should call it the sustainable Innovation Challenge because the questions are ones the corporate sponsors pose. Last year’s sponsors were very pleased with the responses they got to questions of importance to them.”

The Social Entrepreneurship Center focuses on creating socially responsible organizations. “People who tend to think globally are unusual in that they really have a sense of social enterprise and social fairness. In general, according to studies I’ve done, entrepreneurs are more ethical than managers. Obviously because it’s their company and a lot of times their name is on the company,” Hisrich remarks. “We have quite an interest in social entrepreneurship, we will be offering a credit course in social entrepreneurship this year. We also have projects looking at sustainable innovation. Incoming students are put into teams and look at ways we can become a carbon-neutral campus. The winning idea is funded and the winning team gets a prize. I think last year it was $2,000.”

The center seeks to advance entrepreneurship worldwide and help create and support prosperity. “We have a program on Afghan women,” Hisrich says. The program is part of the Global Venture Center‘s global women entrepreneurs initiative. “We bring over women entrepreneurs from Afghanistan for about three weeks. We give them training on various aspects of doing business and entrepreneurship, and help them create and grow their businesses in a country where it is most difficult not only to just be an entrepreneur, but to be a female entrepreneur.”

The structure and thrust of the program reflects Hisrich’s views on the future of global economic development. “I think that part of the building of [Afghanistan], along with other countries that are moving through economic development, it’s going to be the women. These women are just unbelievable,” he says. “We’re in the process of expanding that program, we’re in negotiation with a major US corporation for funding. Eventually we’re going to expand it to [take it to] women in other countries, we’re looking at a couple of places in Africa.”

Not only does the center train global entrepreneurs, it puts its money where its mouth is and helps new companies get started through its global business incubator, part of the Global Venture Center. The incubator structure and the relationship with the school represent a new direction in university financing. According to Hisrich, it is an idea whose time has come. “We have a different concept than most incubators. If you look at the future of universities, we really ought to have a different model. I think the model of funding education as it exists today is just not sustainable into the future,” he says. “Universities today depend upon endowments, in other words giving from alumni, student tuitions and any research dollars they get from corporate or government resources. We believe we should take a proactive position in forming companies and also a risk as well. Instead of charging rent, we take an equity position in the companies in our incubator.”

Because the Center has a vested interest in the success of the incubator enterprises, it gives the fledgling companies a wealth of support and guidance. Incubator companies are assigned a faculty mentor, an alumni entrepreneur mentor and an Enterprise Scholar, who assists them while learning to run a business from the inside. They also have access to a wealth of business services support from the program.

Throughout its 60-year history, Thunderbird has remained a leader in international business education by offering a cutting-edge curriculum taught by faculty who are recognized as global thought leaders. The new Center for Global Entrepreneurship is handily following in that tradition. “My goal is to be the number one program in global entrepreneurship in the world,” says Hisrich.

Image courtesy of the Walker Center for Global Leadership