Ten years ago, Todd Evjenth was working for a high-tech company in Silicon Valley. Though working full-time, he made time to volunteer at his children's elementary school.
While volunteering Evjenth noticed the cafeteria lunches he was serving were… unimpressive. His entrepreneurial dream was born by his passion to serve children a better lunch.
Start with passion, build from there
Evjenth is the founder and CEO of My Green Lunch, which provides "healthy, organic and sustainably sourced hot lunch for Silicon Valley schools and businesses." His advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:
"The business you start must be based upon passion. I saw a financial opportunity but my first concern was affecting change by providing healthy food for kids. My passion continues to inspire me on challenging days. And, as any entrepreneur can tell you, there will be challenging days. Without passion, the energy needed to achieve success may not be sustainable."
Entrepreneurs, Evjenth said, will face a steep learning curve, long days and a fair share of anxiety.
"You will likely have to borrow money or find investors. You'll need to create a solid business plan, do your own accounting, develop and adapt your product, purchase resources, promote your business, the list goes on. Getting started involves huge responsibility even if you have partners. Additionally, you have to confront the inherent risks of starting your own business." These are risks that can be managed intelligently, Evjenth added.
Don't discount a college degree
In addition to basing entrepreneurial dreams on passion, Evjenth, a California State University Chico graduate, offers this second piece of advice: obtain at least an undergraduate degree from a school with an entrepreneur program. According to Evjenth, if an entrepreneur program is not available, a general business degree can be just as valuable.
"A college education can reduce the risks by exposing you to many aspects of running a business," he said. "Classroom knowledge can also be supplemented by hands-on experience through student work programs and internships. There are also networking opportunities that are difficult to find outside of college."
While there's no guarantee a college education will lead to entrepreneurial success, getting an undergraduate degree in entrepreneurship or business may be a benefit regardless of which college you attend.
A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that people with bachelor's degrees earn, on average, $15,000 more per year than people without. Furthermore, the Kauffman Foundation conducted a study of entrepreneurs to determine what they had in common. The study found 95.1 percent of entrepreneurs included in the study had at least a bachelor's degree. Within the context of the Kauffman study at least, having a college degree seems to be well worth the time and effort, as well as the cost.
While a business degree may provide some of the lessons necessary to start a business, entrepreneur programs will offer an even more refined focus on how to start, promote and grow a business from the ground up.
Based upon the criteria used to evaluate entrepreneur programs by US News & World Report and Entrepreneur Magazine, an exceptional entrepreneur training program will typically have the following qualities:
- A high percentage of faculty, students and alumni who are successful entrepreneurs
- A mentorship program that offers robust support for students at every stage of their education
- Opportunities for practical experience in and out of the classroom
- Support for student-business plan competitions
Additionally, though a business degree may also offer opportunities for out-of-the classroom education, a degree that is specifically focused on training for entrepreneurs will likely offer extensive hands-on experience.
At Babson College, students take a course in their first year called the Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship. Teams of 10 students are mentored by two faculty members throughout the year and develop, launch and operate a business with up to $3,000 provided by the college.
Which entrepreneur program?
With a choice of any of the entrepreneur programs in the nation, a potential self-starter may want to consider the following for entrepreneurship training:
- Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts
- The University of Arizona, Tucson
- The University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Each of the above is ranked highly by both US News & World Report and Entrepreneur Magazine.
Babson College, Massachusetts
Ranked number one in programs for entrepreneurs by both US News & World Report and Entrepreneur Magazine, Babson's entrepreneur program is named for Home Depot founder Arthur M. Blank. He's just one of the school's many successful graduates. There's a low faculty-to-student ratio of 15:1 at the school, which has only 2,000 students.
An August 2012 Forbes article pronounced that, "Tiny Babson College is an Entrepreneurial Powerhouse."
Babson offers only one undergraduate major and a master's degree in the same area: business administration with a focus on entrepreneurship.
The University of Arizona, Tucson
University of Arizona's Eller Business School entrepreneur program is ranked sixth by US News & World Report. With an undergraduate population of more than 30, 000 students, UA is a contrast to Babson's smaller student body. It also, however, boasts hundreds of student organizations catering to a wide variety of interests for people from vastly different backgrounds.
More than 70 percent of the faculty are entrepreneurs, and the program offers a mentoring program.
The University of Southern California, Los Angeles
The Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Study is ranked number two in the nation by US News & World Report. The entrepreneur program is housed in USC's renowned Marshall School of Business and designed to give students a global perspective on business development.
While many faculty members are well-established entrepreneurs, some of the world's most highly regarded scholars also teach at the school. The faculty combines practical as well as theoretical knowledge of contemporary research in technology, marketing, accounting and intercultural dynamics.
Interview with Todd Evjenth, founder and CEO, My Green Lunch, conducted by Nicholas White
"5 facts about today's college graduates," Pew Research Center, July 21, 2014, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/05/30/5-facts-about-todays-college-graduates/
"Entrepreneurship Rankings," U.S. News & World Report, July 21, 2014, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/business-entrepreneurship
"Colleges & Business Schools / Top 25 Undergraduate Colleges," Entrepreneur, July 21, 2014, http://www.entrepreneur.com/topcolleges/undergrad/0.html
"Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship," Babson College, July 21, 2014, http://www.babson.edu/Academics/undergraduate/academic-programs/fme/Pages/default.aspx
"Tiny Babson College is an Entrepreneurial Powerhouse," Forbes, July 21, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelnoer/2012/08/01/tiny-babson-college-is-an-entrepreneurial-powerhouse/
"Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies," USC Marshall School of Business, July 22, 2014, http://www.marshall.usc.edu/faculty/centers/greif
"McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship," University of Arizona, July 22, 2014, http://www.entrepreneurship.arizona.edu/