Working from 9 to 5

Two years ago, the USF Center for Entrepreneurship was still too young to be evaluated in the Princeton Review’s annual ranking of college and university programs.

One year ago, it debuted as the ninth-best graduate entrepreneurial program in the United States. This year, it climbed to No. 5. It’s the only Florida program ranked in the top 25.

“It’s great to see that not only can our football program be ranked nationally, but also our entrepreneurship program,” said Provost Ralph Wilcox.

As the center announced its achievement Friday afternoon with the unveiling of a vinyl banner displaying its rank and a white sheet cake carved into the number five, Director Michael Fountain was already looking ahead, describing plans to integrate more of the University’s academic departments and colleges with the center, as well as establish an undergraduate entrepreneurial program to reach a wider array of students.

The center blends different disciplines to provide a holistic view of entrepreneurship, offering courses taught by faculty from USF Health, the College of Business Administration (COBA) and the College of Engineering. It offers a master’s degree in Entrepreneurship in Applied Technologies and a graduate certificate, among other programs.

“It was designed to bring about idea generation, which comes from health and the sciences, the translation of that idea into reality, which comes from engineering, and value creation (marketing the product), which the business side provides,” Fountain said. “Students need to learn all three aspects to be truly successful.”

Fountain said this combination of educational backgrounds was the center’s greatest strength. In years to come he’d like to combine teachings from the rest of the University’s departments, such as the fine arts and the College of Education, into the program.

As the center pursues greater integration, it’s also working with COBA to create an undergraduate minor, which COBA Dean Robert Forsythe said would be available in about two years.

This minor wouldn’t just benefit business students, he said.

“Performing arts students, for example, need to manage their careers,” Forsythe said. “They need to know how to behave entrepreneurially, as do a lot of students in other undergraduate programs.”

In a time of University budget cuts — and amid rumors of more on the way — some alumni and center instructors are concerned that the one thing threatening the creation of this minor and the center’s continued ascent in the national rankings is a lack of money.

As the center grows, it will need more full-time faculty and undergraduate instructors, and it will need its own physical home, said USF instructor and small business consultant Daniel James Scott.

“It’s here in the College of Business, but it’s called a center for a reason — it’s not a department,” he said. “The center’s going to need more resources in order to grow while maintaining the same level of quality.”

As a graduate of the center, Chris Kluis, 26, expressed similar concerns, and said the University should find the means to accommodate the center’s growth in years to come despite dwindling state funds.

Taking the nation’s No. 1 spot from Babson College, however, will involve maintaining the center’s mission throughout its projected growth, he said.

“They’ve got to keep focused on real world projects and how to transition skills from the classroom into the business world,” Kluis said.

To determine the rankings, the Princeton Review sends independent auditors to about 2,300 colleges and universities nationwide who review the program in three areas: academics and requirements, students and faculty, and extracurricular activities.

Fountain has no intention of letting the six-year-old interdisciplinary program get comfortable with being ranked fifth in the nation.

“We’ve got four slots to go,” he said.