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Planting Entrepreneurial Seeds at Cornell University
by Becky McCarville
Mona Anita Olsen at Cornell University. (Photo credit: Lindsay France, Cornell University)
Increasingly, students in a hospitality entrepreneurship program at Cornell University receive Gallup’s Entrepreneur Profile 10 (EP10) assessment.
The program’s goal? To cultivate a mindset of entrepreneurship and to spark conversations. According to leaders at Cornell’s Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship in the School of Hotel Administration, the EP10 assessment addresses the need to talk with students about entrepreneurship early on in their education -- starting them on the path to taking entrepreneurship courses and increasing awareness for the available programming the college offers.
“[EP10] is a way to engage on common ground quickly, to open up conversations about entrepreneurship and help students more effectively build teams across their experience at Cornell, expanding their networks beyond the Pillsbury Institute and creating bridges across academic disciplines on campus,” said Mona Anita Olsen, Ph.D., associate academic director of the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship.
Part of the Pillsbury Institute’s mission is to support the school and its academic and entrepreneurial curriculum in three ways: engagement, experience and education. As Olsen points out, the Pillsbury Institute’s students -- and their peers at other institutions, no doubt -- are attuned to and interested in how entrepreneurship may be applicable to their own lives.
“There’s a shift in society and also in the expectations of students,” she said. “You see it in the classroom; you see it outside of the classroom. Millennials, at least in my classes -- they’re great at seeing opportunities, naturally able to identify problem statements. Self-awareness is something that we’re trying to encourage more often.”
This self-awareness augments the elements of the Pillsbury Institute’s mission, Cornell’s increasing focus on entrepreneurial talent is helping its students cultivate entrepreneurial mindsets.
“EP10 is a path to engagement for us,” Olsen said, pointing out its easy online accessibility and reasonable price point. “It starts the conversation on entrepreneurship in society … both domestically and globally.”
Olsen and others on Cornell’s campus are starting the conversation by bringing EP10 to students who are interested in entrepreneurship -- one group at a time.
Tracey Brant directs the Kessler Fellows Program at Cornell, a program targeting a niche group of junior engineering students who are interested in entrepreneurship. Experienced in StrengthsFinder and StrengthsQuest, Brant’s interest was piqued when she heard about a Gallup assessment geared toward entrepreneurs.
“The [Kessler Fellows] Program sits at the intersection of innovation and market adoption,” she said. The year-long program includes a spring class and one-on-one coaching sessions, a summer experience at a startup or other entrepreneurial environment, and symposium presentations in the fall.
“I was so interested in the assessment because, during the one-on-one coaching sessions, it’s my goal to give students as much information as they can have with the intent of helping them increase their self-awareness,” Brant said.
Brant has been using EP10 with Kessler Fellows students and knew it could have a broader application at Cornell. In conversations with Olsen at a monthly entrepreneurship meeting with various departments, they decided to begin the process of vetting the assessment and pitching it to the Pillsbury Institute.
Next, Brant presented and demonstrated the EP10 to the Pillsbury Institute’s Advisory Board, consisting of over 30 executives, team members from different hotel companies and entrepreneurial ventures. The pitch went well, and now all freshman, transfers and Master of Management in Hospitality students are given the opportunity to take the EP10 at no cost through the Pillsbury Institute. The hope is to expand this opportunity to all School of Hotel Administration students.
Now the advisory board itself uses the EP10 to map the talents of board members and strategically recruit new members.
Entrepreneurial Coaching Sessions
To fully understand Gallup’s entrepreneurial talents and to maximize the coaching experience with her students around the EP10, both Brant and Olsen each attended one of Gallup’s Coaching Entrepreneurial Talents courses.
When coaching students in entrepreneurial talents, Brant said it really depends on the individual and how they want to use the results. The results, through coaching sessions, “become a living document of information that’s changing and growing over time.”
Brant uses the results of the student’s EP10 assessments as a guide to have conversations about the classes they might take, the mentorships they will seek and the entrepreneurial experiences they can have while at Cornell. After completing the EP10 assessment, each student receives a customized report that measures, ranks and explains the 10 talents exhibited by successful entrepreneurs.
“We can talk about entrepreneurship and interest in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial talent in general conversations without this tool, but with this tool, the impact is incrementally stronger because you have the research behind it,” Brant said. “This takes our conversations to a much deeper level than we otherwise would have been able to take them.” If students have an interest in entrepreneurship, there’s a place for them within the entrepreneurial landscape, Brant affirms.
“The results of assessments are by no way to pigeonhole their interest in the field of entrepreneurship,” she said, adding that she advises each student to hold onto what has meaning to them and let go of what doesn’t.
As an entrepreneurial strengths facilitator and the Pillsbury Institute faculty member for the program, Brant frequently holds coaching sessions. Students, administration and staff who take the assessment can attend monthly interactive sessions to follow up.
“I’ve never worked with someone who wasn’t intensely enthused after receiving the results, simply from the standpoint of being able to engage in a different conversation -- a new conversation,” Brant said.
Some students have used the results as a basis for a personal pitch, from discovering how they fit in with a team to deciding who to include on a team if they want to move forward with an entrepreneurial idea.
“[The sessions] have been a really great launch pad for us,” Olsen said. “It sets the tone that entrepreneurship is here -- whether you walk away saying you want to be an entrepreneur or not, that’s not our purpose for these sessions. Hopefully, you’ll know more about yourself, and then use it accordingly to make a difference in your journey both while at Cornell and post-Cornell.”
Strategically Growing Entrepreneurial Strengths
Brant and Olsen have strategic plans to expand EP10’s reach by building on the success of the Kessler Fellows Program and the Pillsbury Institute. The EP10 has been used in various applications across the university and beyond, including potential partnerships with other local colleges and a startup incubator in Ithaca.
“I have big dreams for the assessment -- to at least make it available to all students at Cornell who self-identify as entrepreneurs or who have an interest in entrepreneurship,” Brant said.
Previously Brant worked for 15 years with the veterinary college, a passion of hers. She plans to offer the the test to Cornell’s veterinary school’s business club in the fall, with the intent of assessing the status of entrepreneurship among veterinary students.
“Over the course of this past year, we’ve seen many different ways to incorporate [EP10],” Olsen said. “Now the challenge moving forward is how do we scale while maintaining quality.”
Cornell is one of the inaugural partners working with Gallup to develop its global Entrepreneurial Talent Initiative (ETI) that focuses on colleges and universities. In fact, Gallup University faculty will head to Ithaca in the fall to conduct its Coaching Entrepreneurial Talent course for upwards of 20 faculty and staff.
“We were happy to be early adopters, and we’re anxious to see where it’s going to lead,” Brant said.
To watch Mona Anita Olsen discuss EP10 efforts on Cornell's campus, please watch the video below: