In 1967, Babson College became one of the first academic institutions in the world to offer a dedicated elective on entrepreneurship. In 1993, the Massachusetts business school made a course on entrepreneurship a requirement for all its MBA students.
Today Babson offers 79 graduate-level courses on the subject, in addition to a wide array of forums, workshops, business plan competitions, summer internships and accelerator programmes geared toward cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs.
“Our goal,” says Dennis Hanno, Babson provost and senior vice-president, “is to create an overall entrepreneurial environment and focus on innovation” that permeates the campus.
“Our students are very action-oriented,” says Prof Hanno, who is also executive director of the Babson-Rwanda Entrepreneurship Center and a professor of accounting. “They are engaged in the learning process. You [do] not come to Babson if you want to sit in the back row and hope [the lessons] sink in.”
This is not just hype: an exceptionally high number of entrepreneurs graduate from Babson. About 15 per cent of the class of 2012 started a business after graduation, compared with the 5 per cent of all MBA graduates of that year who planned to be entrepreneurs, according to the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC).
“Many students come to Babson with an idea of a business they would like to start,” says Carolyn Hotchkiss, dean of faculty and a professor of law. “Our job as faculty is to harness that student spark and provide them with a good, strong core.”
Take Tara Foley, who earned her MBA from the school last year. She arrived on campus with ambitions of starting a business that sold all-natural cosmetics and honed her idea during the programme. Shortly after graduation, she opened the boutique Follain (Gaelic for healthy, wholesome and sound) in Boston’s trendy South End neighbourhood.
“Babson’s entrepreneurship programme is special because of its emphasis on action,” she says. “The hardest part of starting a business is taking action. But by breaking the action into smaller steps – prototyping, bootstrapping and testing your concept – the action is easier to grasp and thus easier to attempt.”
Prof Hotchkiss describes the school’s approach as “hands-on, project-driven, collaborative and interdisciplinary”. “We organise things differently,” she says. “We make students examine problems across disciplines by tying together organisational behaviour with finance and economics. It is a little unnerving for students at first, but problems don’t come with nice, neat borders.”
The aim is for students to gain problem-solving skills and creative thinking capabilities that serve them well in the start-up world and traditional business settings.
“Entrepreneurialism is a mindset, as well as a set of skills and capabilities,” says Candida Brush, Babson chairwoman of entrepreneurship. “We want students to learn how to identify opportunities, how to build a team and how to create something of economic or social value.”
The school runs four MBA programmes: a traditional two-year programme, an accelerated one-year course for students with an undergraduate business degree, a part-time MBA for working professionals and a fast-track programme targeted at mid-career professionals.
The school’s campus is in Wellesley, 20km west of central Boston. Proximity to the city – which has a thriving start-up culture, particularly in science and technology – is a recruitment advantage, and about 67 per cent of Babson’s 1,200 graduate students come from countries other than the US.
The international component “makes for a much richer educational experience”, says Prof Hotchkiss. “We really think the student experience should mirror the global marketplace; we are careful to have lots of different countries represented so that no one country dominates.
“This global network is valuable for students here on campus, but it is perhaps even more valuable when they become alumni.”