Monday, April 8, 2013

Exploring Entrepreneurialism in Academia

Inna Gorlova, Ed.D.
Adjunct Faculty
Leadership and Counseling Department
Eastern Michigan University

Globalization and the rapidly changing market cause universities to seek new and creative ways to survive and succeed.  The term entrepreneurial university is an ideological umbrella for those higher education institutions that are attempting to fully participate in the social and economic life of society (Clark, 2004; Etzkowitz, 2004; Schramm, 2006).  The mission of entrepreneurial universities goes beyond teaching and research.  They actively collaborate with the external organizations as they transfer knowledge to new or improved programs and services (Etzkowitz, 2004).

A qualitative study was conducted to investigate entrepreneurial transformation at the academic and non-academic departments of the School of Education at one Midwestern large public comprehensive university.  I sought to better understand the growth of the programs and services at the units of analysis and how entrepreneurial concepts such as entrepreneurial behavior, culture, entrepreneurial products, creativity, innovations, and others play out in the chosen institution.  Collected qualitative data were coded and scanned for common themes.

Fourteen emergent themes were put into five categories: Entrepreneurial Individuals, Environmental Factors, Organizational Behaviors, Organizational Outcomes, and Organizational Systems.  Analysis of the emergent themes showed that they are not equal; some of the themes are more important than the others.  The following four themes were found to be core ones: Diversity of Personal and Professional Expertize and Experiences, Teamwork and Internal Collaboration, Unique/Innovative Programs and Services, and Entrepreneurial Achievement Oriented Organizational Culture.  These core themes have closer connections among the other themes and carry the content to which the data refer more often that to the rest of themes (see the highlighted themes in the Table below).

Fourteen emergent themes and five main categories

These themes create a “story” that emerged from the data.  This story tells that the organizational members with diverse backgrounds, experiences and expertise, come together in different teams and collaborate to achieve common goals.  They work across campus and with the partnering organizations in the state, region, nationally, and internationally.  They scan environment and conduct research on the best practices at other higher education institutions.  During these collaborative processes, they choose ideas for new projects and improvements for their existing programs and services and turn the ideas to innovative organizational outcomes.  The innovations are considered as unique novel programs that may be new at the level of departments, School of Education, University, or among other universities.  All of the processes at the selected departments contribute to the entrepreneurial culture.  This culture should be understood as the lowest level of “cultural iceberg” that represents underlined assumptions and deep believes (Schein, 2004) of the organizational members.  This culture is achievement oriented (McClelland, 1961).  The individuals compete with each other how far they may go in the market.  This culture is supportive to new ideas and involves hard work, determination, and risk-taking. 

These four themes are tied in a cycling process because the entrepreneurial organizational culture promotes a lot of restructuring activities at all of the levels within the University.  The restructuring leads to frequent change of the positions and responsibilities because the organization seeks fresh input.  When the departments hire new faculty or staff, the hiring committee looks in candidates for diverse backgrounds, creativity, curiosity, and proven abilities to go beyond traditional walls in academia.

This study was an important opportunity for me, as an educational leader, to learn about the processes that occur in higher education because of global pressures and about how entrepreneurialism enhances capability of an organization to succeed in today’s globalizing world.

Questions for consideration:
How do we, educational leaders, apply creativity in our everyday work with the students? And how do we recognize and support creativity and initiatives by our students and/or colleagues? How often are we willing to go beyond our comfort zones and initiate and implement projects that would bring people from other disciplinary together in order to improve teaching-learning? Where entrepreneurialism in academia starts: in a classroom or at a president office?


Clark, B. R. (2004). Delineating the Character of the Entrepreneurial University. Higher Education Policy, 17, 355-370.
Etzkowitz, H. (2004). The evolution of the entrepreneurial university. International Journal of Technology and Globalisation, 1, 64-77.
McClelland, D. C. (1961). The Achieving Society. Princeton, NJ: D. Van. Nostrand Company, Ltd.
Schein, E.H. (2004). Organizational Culture and Leadership. 3rd Ed. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons
Schramm, C. (2006). The Entrepreneurial imperative: How America’s economic miracle will reshape the world (and change your life). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers