Some people have it. Most people don’t. That inner voice that tells them to zig when the rest of the world zags. To bet on themselves rather than take the safe route. To trade a job with a guaranteed salary and benefits for days spent toiling away in the basement or garage hoping to make their vision a reality. Knowing they will fail a dozen times before seeing success, but understanding that once they achieve it, all of their sacrifices will be justified. Call them dreamers, risk takers, innovators or rebels, they all share the same entrepreneurial spirit.
There is no one-size-fits-all description of an entrepreneur. Many of them own the small businesses that form the backbone of the economy. Others are visionaries who create billion-dollar empires. The specifics of their individual efforts are not as important as the overall role they play in society. Entrepreneurs see a need, and they fill it. They understand the philosophy of “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Whether their mousetrap is simply providing an improved version of an existing service or bringing something entirely new into existence, improvement is at the heart of what they do, and the hard work of the entrepreneur often has a hand in moving humanity forward.
Not surprisingly, a countless number of University alumni have followed their own entrepreneurial dreams. Truman is a perfect breeding ground for innovators. The liberal arts nature of the school promotes critical thinking skills across multiple disciplines. Put into practice, those skills are ideal for evaluating a problem and developing a better way to address the situation at hand. Liberal arts graduates are often creative enough to envision grand goals and rational enough to be strategic in implementing plans to achieve them.
Naturally, many alumni entrepreneurs are products of the University’s School of Business. Those students fortunate enough to envisage their potential business early on are understandably going to be drawn to the school so they can learn the techniques needed to bring their ideas to market. While only a handful begin their business ventures before they graduate, many will take advantage of the school’s plethora of resources to sharpen their own skills. Among its host of classes, the School of Business offers an entrepreneurship course every fall. Additionally, there are two student organizations — the Innovative Community of Entrepreneurs and the Student-Run Business Initiative — available for budding entrepreneurs to gain experience. Separate from Truman, the School of Business actively supports programs offered by the local Missouri Rural Enterprise and Innovation Center as well as the Small Business Technology and Development Center.
As successful as the School of Business has been at producing titans of industry, it is important to remember there are several paths to the top of the mountain that is entrepreneurial success. Many CEOs lead successful companies without ever having sat through a business management class. Some might argue majors outside of the traditional business realm, particularly those associated with creative disciplines, have an advantage because they encourage non-conventional approaches. While the debate about which field of study is the most useful will rage on forever, the fact remains that the idea for a successful venture can come from anywhere. Mathematics and computer science majors are capable of creating apps that could make any smart phone a little better and the programmer a little richer. The following pages will prove a chemistry degree can be the catalyst for starting a multimillion-dollar company (Kevin Tibbs), an education degree can open doors beyond the classroom (Stephanie Hollenbeck, Shaunelle Curry) and journalism majors can ask the right questions to find the answers to success (Doug Villhard). The broad-based nature of a liberal arts education makes it ideal for entrepreneurs, whether they have dreams of running their own corporation from a high-rise office or starting a cottage industry in the dining room.
Entrepreneurs do not always dabble in something new, or even in something material. They are simply the ones bold enough to take on the financial risks of betting on themselves to be successful. That includes the attorney who decides to hang out her own shingle in private practice and the accountant who would rather work one-on-one with his clients than crunch numbers from a corporate cubicle.
Some estimates indicate 34 percent of the U.S. workforce is made up of freelance workers, and that number is projected to be as high as 43 percent by 2020. In perhaps a sign of that shift, one of the events conducted by the Kansas City Alumni Chapter this year was an alumni reception and entrepreneurial panel discussion. Alumni entrepreneurs came together to discuss their paths to success and offer advice to others looking to blaze their own trails. The gig economy – the idea of putting one’s specific skills and talents to work independently – is increasingly more popular, and advances in technology are creating new opportunities that may not have existed in previous years. Social media was a novelty a decade ago. Today, a social media strategist is a sought-after position, and marketing firms can put countless hours of work into the digital world alone. Aspiring entrepreneurs are limited only by their imagination in terms of how to implement technology and carve out their niche.
For those brave souls willing to take risks, they will be the ones filling the future needs of society. Some may change the world, some may change their communities and some may just pay their bills. It is not always about the money. In most cases it is about following their dreams, believing in themselves and seeking the freedom that comes with being their own boss.