Saturday, November 27, 2010

Belmont's First International Entrepreneurship Course

I was approached by one of my entrepreneurship professors a few weeks ago during an event we put on for International Business Society.  It was a Food Around the World fundraiser that I think I blogged about -- it was a great success and created a great environment for faculty and students to mix and mingle, sharing thoughts and a meal.

I might have mentioned before that I've been given the privilege of creating my own major -- one that's not in the catalog -- which, to me, was one of the most appealing facets of the program when I applied to Belmont. The major I've put together is called International Entrepreneurship; I've essentially fused our International Business and Entrepreneurship programs and thrown in some language/cultural focus, a neat internship, some study abroad trips, and a relevant thesis. I'm finding that the major I've put together is very pertinent to the demands of today's global economy, and I've been pleasantly surprised at the way prospective employers have reacted to seeing it on my resume. In fact, during my first phone interview for the State Department internship, I was told that this never-before-seen major was one of the things that immediately stood out and distinguished my application from those of the standard Political Science and International Relations majors who constitute the majority of applicants. My interviewer essentially said that a global focus on entrepreneurship is a rising objective of the State Department, and my educational background uniquely prepares me to step into a role in this field.

Just tonight, while doing research for a marketing paper, I ran across this new (2010) initiative sponsored by the State Department:
The Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP) is a U.S. State Department-led effort to promote and spur entrepreneurship around the world. Announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship in April 2010, the GEP highlights the Obama Administration’s commitment to use America’s entrepreneurial culture to advance entrepreneurship in emerging markets and developing countries. The program is managed as an interagency team, which includes USAID, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) the Millennium Challenge Corporation, among others, and is led by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Economic Affairs/Office of Commercial and Business Affairs.
 It's lucky for me that my research interests line up with some now-sought-after skills!

I wouldn't say that anyone at Belmont was exactly skeptical of my choice in major, but I did have to do a considerable amount of research to justify the integrity of the major before the Honors Council (whose approval of my proposal creates a legal contract between the University and me, making this major as legitimate as any in the catalog).  "What's your major?" always accompanies an introduction to any college student, and the inevitable follow-up to stating mine is: "WHAT are you going to do with that!?"  You know you have an unorthodox major when even faculty members are asking.

Well, the nature of these questions are changing.  Or rather, the attitudes of those asking have changed. You might remember Dr. Jose Gonzalez, the professor whose feedback gave me the confidence to launch my thesis research. (If not, go ahead and click the link above to read about what happened last year - it's rather significant to the event at hand.) A few weeks ago, during the Food Around the World fundraiser Dr. Gonzalez pulled me aside and said, "Hey, I'm teaching a course in International Entrepreneurship next semester, and I'm working on developing the syllabus right now.  Rather than get student feedback on the back end, after I've taught the course once, I'd like to get your suggestions now on the syllabus, textbook, and material you'd like to see taught."

I felt so honored that he would seek my opinion in developing this new course.  I'll certainly be taking the course next year when I return from Russia, so it's a really neat opportunity to insert my thoughts and questions ahead of time.  Helping develop the course content will certainly ensure that I get as much as I can out of it - I'm really excited about this!

I know some of you share my interest in entrepreneurial research, so I thought I'd post some of the suggestions I sent over to Dr. Gonzalez...

  1.  Global Market Penetration Strategy
  2.   Establishing the business

a.       What factors influence decision to pursue mergers, acquisitions, or greenfield investments?
b.      Forming a sole proprietorship vs. partnership vs. incorporating (what are the costs, benefits, and restrictions associated with each?)
c.       What are some of the different bureaus/agencies we should be familiar with when registering our business overseas?

           3.   As an American entrepreneur starting a business abroad, in which country do you bank, pay taxes, etc?

           4.    I think it would be neat to do an individual/group strategy project towards the end of the semester – to let each student pick a country in which they’d like to start a business, and put together a forecast/plan for a specific business (as we did in Entrepreneurial Financial Mgt, but more focused on general start-up procedure and organization of the business rather than the financial forecast). To broaden the assignment and help us get the most out of our research, it would be neat to do preliminary research on our country, and then meet in groups (organized by region) to compare our host countries’ policies and special circumstances before completing the assignment. This way we could itemize and discuss in our papers some of the particularities of starting a business in our country – factors that differ even among neighboring countries in a region.
For example, if I were to choose Ecuador as the country in which I wanted to start a business, I would go out and start my research on Ecuador, and then meet with my regional group – the other students who chose a country in South America (maybe organize the “regions” by continent or by trading bloc?). I would get the chance to compare notes with students who had researched Brasil, Chile, Peru, and Colombia, among other countries. We could discuss everything from the language of business, small business tax policies, the length/complexity of the incorporating process, favorability of policies toward certain industries, structure and liquidity of capital markets, RTA memberships and tariffs, economic freedom score, etc.  We would then resume our personal research, keeping in mind our country’s entrepreneurial climate in the context of its neighbors’. 

For the sake of putting together a comprehensive presentation, it seems necessary to specify one country in which we plan to launch our venture; HOWEVER, I think that few students can indicate with any degree of certainty one country in which they plan to do business.  They’re much more likely to have identified a region that they’re interested in – often dictated by the foreign language they’ve studied or a region in which they’ve studied abroad.   By meeting in regional groups we would benefit from an in-depth discussion and comparison of the countries in our region, and by focusing on the circumstances that are unique to our country we would ensure that the information we present to the class is somewhat distinctive, therefore minimizing repetitive presentations and maximizing the learning potential.
      I'm really hoping to get answers to all these questions and more!


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