A few weeks ago a gentleman from a prestigious UK university met with me and others in our community to gather information and input on his university’s proposed new entrepreneurship program, given our experience with similar programs in our local ecosystem. He told us that the university would likely house the program in its business school with a goal to “inspire and encourage university students to come up with startup ideas and become entrepreneurs.” I decided to make a point.
“it shouldn’t be in the business school,” I said.
“Oh, OK — so you think the program should be in the engineering school, to encourage the engineering students to start startups?”
No” I said. “It should be in the medical school.”
“I see — you mean, for biotech and medical startups?”
“No” I said again. “Because it’s not a good idea to encourage everyone and anyone to start startups. Entrepreneurship is a disease. It’s an infection. That’s why it should be in the medical school. Your program should be intended to help the students who already have the disease. You should say to your student body, ‘if you are infected with Entrepreneur’s Disease, we can help you.’”
I smiled. He laughed. He understood that I was joking about the specifics, but serious about the message.
Startups are insanely risky. The vast majority of attempted startups are doomed to completely fail. It’s probably a bad idea in general to try to distract people from their studies or career paths and actively encourage them en masse to start startups.
Entrepreneurs hear voices. Ideas that refuse to be ignored bang around in their heads. Clinical schizophrenia is no laughing matter but great entrepreneurs must exhibit a moderate type of split personality, where half the brain must be willing to pursue almost irrational risk while the other half needs to be rooted in some type of executable reality. Entrepreneurial spirit is a great blessing, but also a great curse, because it won’t leave you alone once it infects you.
It’s not our job to send people headlong down the entrepreneurial path if they’re not internally propelled to begin with. It’s our job to help the people that are already hearing voices, and leaning down that path, to have a better chance at success.