Drexel’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship Moves the Needle in Entrepreneurship Education

Victor Milbourne, BS general studies ’15, credits the Close School’s Launch It! course with helping him learn the skills to lead his construction management firm, Military Construction LLC.
Victor Milbourne, BS general studies ’15, credits the Close School’s Launch It! course with helping him learn the skills to lead his construction management firm, Military Construction LLC.

Drexel University’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship is a pioneer in the evolving shift in entrepreneurship education – an approach that broadens the field of entrepreneurship from a sole focus on new venture creation to thinking and acting entrepreneurially. Its curriculum and programming are designed to develop an entrepreneurial mindset in students, so they are equipped to be innovative leaders in new ventures, in established organizations and in their personal lives.

The Close School has attracted students and prestige in its mere seven years of existence for this very reason — its faculty and programs teach important concepts and provide valuable experiences that can’t be learned from a book, and can be applied far beyond just the next startup endeavor.

This year, recognition for the school’s achievements have encompassed the individual inclusion of the Close School in Drexel’s accreditation from the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business — an achievement shared with just 5 percent of business schools worldwide — and an impressive No. 12 ranking by Entrepreneur magazine for the best undergraduate programs for aspiring entrepreneurs.

The school has taught more than 4,500 students from across the University in at least one entrepreneurship course, and has supported more than 40 students from a variety of fields of study with entrepreneurship co-ops, supported by more than $600,000 in co-op funding. To date, 177 students having chosen the Close School’s BA in entrepreneurship and innovation major or its new accelerated three-year program, and the school boasts 56 undergraduate and nine graduate alumni.

Donna De Carolis, PhD, dean of the Charles D. Close School, has always held the strong belief that entrepreneurship education empowers everyone, no matter what their career path. This is evidenced by its new three-year degree, she added, which she hopes students who may not fit the traditional image of an entrepreneur will consider, along with the opportunities it provides.

“We are constantly evolving to develop the mindset of our young entrepreneurs so that they can thrive in new and rapidly changing environments,” De Carolis said. “This year has provided ample opportunity for such lessons inside and outside of the classroom.”   

Stan Silverman, vice chairman of the Drexel Board of Trustees and a member of the Close School’s Dean’s Advisory Council, said he believes every student at Drexel should be exposed to at least one entrepreneurship course to learn the value of putting your ideas and yourself out there, as well as the lessons that can be derived from both success and failure.

“These students are learning the skills of a CEO in real time, not on a blackboard,” he said. “They are picking partners. They are hiring their first employees. They're dealing with lawyers and accountants to set up their businesses to protect their intellectual property. They're dealing with customers. They're learning how to write business plans, which, of course, are probably changeable every couple of days as the business develops. They’re learning skills that a CEO would learn, and the best way to learn these kinds of skills, is to actually do it.”

Victor Milbourne, BS general studies ’15, credits the Close School’s Launch It! course with helping him learn the skills to lead his construction management firm, Military Construction LLC. The course provides instruction, resources and funds to support the successful launch of a startup. Milbourne says it helped him determine the right business name, understand his target audience and value proposition, and even it even assisted him financially to take an outside course on how to bid on government contracts. Now, Military Construction LLC does business all over the country, has been awarded local outstanding contractor awards and supports military veterans like Milbourne himself with hiring opportunities.

“I always knew I wanted to be entrepreneurial, but the course that I took really helped me understand what that meant and how to do it,” Milbourne said, citing formative opportunities such as speaking with entrepreneurial lawyers and high-level bankers, as well as accessing mentorship from Close School professors. “A lot of times, as an entrepreneur, people always say, ‘Well, you know, just jump out there and do it.’ But jumping out there without a plan is not a good idea at all.”

This is why the Close School provides multiple avenues for students to seek mentorship and invests in students’ entrepreneurial ideas. The school sponsors a high school business plan contests for area high schoolers, for example, called Rising Starters. Enrolled students and graduates from across the University can participate in StartUp Fest, which over three days of festivities awards over $25,000 in prizes through the School’s Laurence A. Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship Incubator Competition. And the Institute itself has incubated more than 100 student companies over the past five years which have gone on to raise nearly $10 million in funding.

Regardless of whether Close School students end up on “Shark Tank” or in Silicon Valley, one thing they inevitably take away from their entrepreneurship education is how to refuse to settle for — and push past — the status quo.

“Even if they don't become an entrepreneur and start a business, these skills are so valuable,” Silverman said. “Companies want people to hire people who will push the state of the art, who will push the company forward to success, will suggest new ways of doing things and break existing paradigms, because the old ways aren't going to work forever, and so you always need to push forward.”

“Students with those mindsets are the ones who will be hired,” he continued. “And I think the Close School plays an extremely important role in this effort, because it's the only place where it's really taught from a practical matter.”