Entrepreneurship program helpful in economic decline

Despite the struggling economy, it seems that more students are deciding to take a risk and start their own businesses.

USF’s Center for Entrepreneurship is attracting more students to study at the program, which was ranked fifth in the nation by the Princeton Review last year. 

Since the master’s program started three years ago, enrollment has increased from 17 to 120 students this year, said Michael Fountain, the director of the center.

“The recognition and ranking of the program along with the downturn in the economy tends to increase the number of students who have considered coming back, because they can retrain and get added skills for when the economy is in an upturn,” Fountain said.

Ferdian Jap, who graduated from the program in December 2007 with his master’s degree in entrepreneurship, is working as a project specialist with the Tampa Riverwalk. He said the program helped him, even in the struggling economy.

“The program changes the way we think and how we look at daily life. If there is a need, we recognize it and do the research and see if there is a chance for a business there,” Jap said.

The program is designed to complement other disciplines on campus such as engineering, he said. There are also a lot of hands-on learning opportunities available for students.

“It’s a clinical type of program that includes theory, practice and the art of entrepreneurship altogether,” Fountain said.

Networking is an important part of being successful as an entrepreneur, and the program offers students a chance to meet with other business members and learn from people in the field, he said.

“The University tends to attract the best and brightest,” Fountain said.  “We keep incredibly strong relationships with the business and technical community in Tampa.”

Entrepreneurs starting their own businesses may run into problems because of the slow economy, but there are still opportunities available, Jap said.

“Businesses are always looking for entrepreneur students,” he said. “They need people to go through projects from start to finish.”

Jon Solomon, a student of the program, will graduate with his master’s degree this semester. Solomon entered the program instead of going to law school and said he is satisfied with the thoroughness.

“The program covers all the broad aspects of being an entrepreneur, from funding a business to developing products to the different industries there are,” he said.  “Basically, all the aspects that you need to start and run a business.”

Solomon said the economy did not affect his decision to enter the program, and he remains positive about his chances of being successful as an entrepreneur.

“If you have something people really need, then the business will do well no matter what the economy is doing,” Solomon said.

He said the slow economy could inspire some to take a chance and its entrepreneurs have to just go out and try.

“The economy inspires people to be more creative, especially if they are their own boss,” Solomon said.  “If you can afford to support yourself and take the risk, then great, go ahead and do it, but if you’re not willing to take the risk or don’t have a backup plan, then you won’t make it.”

The program is made up of plenty of students willing to take chances — more than 50 percent of them go on to start their own businesses, Fountain said.

“When there is a downturn in the economy,” he said, “what better way is there to develop a career path than to start your own?”