Strengths Coaching Blog

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How to Unlock Students’ Entrepreneurial Potential

by Becky McCarville

From high school to college, student of all ages are hyper-aware that they need a good job after graduating from college. With student debt at an all-time high in 2016 and employment prospects lower than expected, the job outlook for new grads doesn’t paint a rosy picture.

Due to these factors, economic and otherwise, fewer young people are starting their own businesses.

How can students -- and the world -- dig out of this economic quagmire? Job creation relies on new business startups and scaling up existing businesses -- identifying and unlocking students’ entrepreneurial potential is the key.

Across the nation and worldwide, entrepreneurial classes and programs are buzzing, and many are turning to Gallup’s Entrepreneurship Profile 10 (EP10) assessment to jumpstart the discussion around entrepreneurial talent. 


Igniting Entrepreneurship 

Tim Peterson, Ph.D., professor of management in the department of management and marketing in North Dakota State University’s College of Business, and a Gallup Certified Coach also trained in the EP10 believes that entrepreneurship and igniting the economy starts with high school students. 

As a volunteer for Junior Achievement’s Company of the Year Program pilot in the Fargo-Moorhead area (Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota), the EP10 assessment was the “perfect avenue” to introduce the concept of entrepreneurial talent to high school students.

“I pointed out that if we couldn’t have a million new startups every year, we’re going to fall behind. We need [entrepreneurs] if we want to remain economically strong,” Tim said, clearly inspired by Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton’s bestseller The Coming Jobs War. “All of that’s important in framing for students why they should be interested in being entrepreneurs and how they can use their natural talent.”

Shontarius Aikens, Ph.D., was the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accreditation manager at NDSU during the JA Company Program pilot and taught courses in the Certificate of Entrepreneurship through its partnership with the University of North Dakota. Beginning this month, he will be an assistant professor of management at the Offutt School of Business at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. 

Shontarius agreed that cultivating entrepreneurial talents is critical among young people. 

“It’s almost like all the stars are aligned in this particular region,” Shontarius said, noting the healthy ecosystem for entrepreneurial activity. “Taking the blueprint -- what we bring from the college and university, what JA brings, what Gallup brings -- this is a prescription for what we should do, and we’re doing it.”

Throughout the 14-week JA Company Program, the volunteers used the EP10 to help students understand the demands placed on entrepreneurs and how they can align their natural talents in the entrepreneurial life cycle, including: 

  • building teams and company structure 
  • creating a product and selling it 
  • presenting their results to a panel of judges for the Company of the Year competition
  • liquidating the company or continuing the business 

Lisa Metzger, senior district manager for Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest, also volunteered at one of the high schools for the JA Company Program.

“Another eye-opener for students was that not all entrepreneurs are going to have all of these strengths -- entrepreneurial talent is kind of like a puzzle piece,” she said. “You need to surround yourself with people who can help you complete that puzzle.”

Activating Entrepreneurial Potential Worldwide 

While many schools are focusing on entrepreneurship courses, incubators, accelerators, or clubs and organizations, 3 Day Startup acts as a pre-startup phase for students -- to initiate entrepreneurial thinking and innovation and to bolster the pipeline of entrepreneurs.

“We’re training cohorts of students around the world on this entrepreneurial thinking method and cultivating cross-disciplinary groups of entrepreneurship ambassadors through our engagements,” said Alexis Taylor, program manager for 3 Day Startup.

3 Day Startup has used the EP10 tool at programs run at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and the University of Texas-Austin to help with team formation, communication among team members, as well as mitigating conflict and building self-awareness.

“The EP10 has been a really sharp tool to bring into the program, and shows how every person has entrepreneurial capabilities,” Alexis said. “You have to learn how to activate [your entrepreneurial talents] or build sophistication for them, and understand what your career goals are and how to fit them in -- whether it’s starting a small company, or as a tech startup entrepreneur, intrapreneur in a corporate environment or a social activist.” 

Alexis has run 3 Day Startup programs on four different continents and has seen similarities among budding entrepreneurs despite cultural differences. “They’re all very driven, interested in creating value,” she said. “They’re epic problem-solvers.”

The core philosophy that transcends cultures? “You don’t need a rich uncle or tons of money to start a company,” she said. She continued to explain that in communities where startup funding is not readily available, building up capacities and role models is essential. 

Within any community across the globe, 3 Day Startup works with universities and student teams to help them build their 3 Day Startup program over a four-month engagement. 

For the first three months, the focus is on leadership development for the school and students to build their capabilities as entrepreneurial leaders and to help go through organizing the 3 Day Startup process. Next, 3 Day Startup runs the program and follows up with post-program engagement to help continue to build on the work that has been done.

3 Day Startup has also worked with high school students, and Alexis notes a confidence that these younger students have when compared with college students. As students get older, they’re less malleable because they have already made up their minds about what they want to do, she shared.

“The earlier we reach students, the easier it is for them to build their entrepreneurial potential,” she said. “The nature of work is changing rapidly and our immersive entrepreneurship program builds young students’ adaptability, resourcefulness and entrepreneurial skillsets required for future success.”

Answering the Call for Business Builders in Cities

Kristin Gregory, director of the Clifton Foundation in Washington, D.C., is working with Washington Builders, a summer internship launched by the Clifton Foundation to expose youth in the Greater Washington, D.C., area to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and to build young influencers.

The goal, Kristin said, is to partner with the city to develop 1,000 new entrepreneurial leaders.

“Young people with energy and ideas to build something live in every ZIP code,” she said. “However, they often go unidentified and underdeveloped. Through entrepreneurship, these students will take ownership of the trajectory of their lives and the city.” 

Washington Builders is using the EP10 and CliftonStrengths to help students learn more about their strengths and develop their entrepreneurial talents into strengths. 

Over the five-week program, students take on challenges related to starting their own businesses. Then, as a way of debriefing, they reflect on how they and their teammates used strengths in those challenges. They are paired with local entrepreneurs as mentors and they have strengths coaches.

Much of the learning is student led, and strengths and entrepreneurial talents are woven throughout the curriculum and are part of a continual conversation. 

“A lot of it is about them teaching each other, their own reflections -- through experiential learning and a lot of autonomy,” Kristin said. “Entrepreneurs need a lot of autonomy to learn how to swim. ... That’s where they thrive, gain confidence and stay engaged. That’s the emotional context of what we’re building.”

What’s missing from the educational system? Kristin said it’s students not having their own compass or navigational toolkit. In other words, not knowing what strengths they have or what they need to grow.

“Knowing their strengths, to believe in themselves, to know how they’re unique, to know where they fit in -- to hone in on that, to polish it, to harness it -- that gives these kids a competitive advantage for life, not just college,” Kristin said.

Solving Social Issues From a Business Perspective 

Enactus, a college-based club for entrepreneurs, establishes student programs on campuses across the nation and internationally, developing entrepreneurial projects that address social needs.

Enactus is a partnership between students, academics and business partners that uses real world learning about how to solve problems from a business perspective, said Bev Graham, Ph.D., vice president, U.S. Programs at Enactus. The projects are presented during annual competitions.

“Entrepreneurship is a big word, and being entrepreneurial,” Bev said. “We’ve thrown that word around a lot but really don’t have a clear definition of what it really means.”  

The goals of Enactus are to create strong teams and teach skills that employers want in college graduates. Teaching competency in entrepreneurship, project management and a basic understanding of economics and finance are the three main areas of concentration for the organization. 

Enactus is piloting a new program for students that encompasses the three competency areas and incorporates Gallup’s EP10. 

The EP10 gives a common language and a framework in which to work, and entrepreneurial talents apply to any position in any field, Bev said.

“Even if you don’t want to start your own business, and you want to work for one of our sponsor companies or someone else, companies are looking for innovators,” she said. “They’re looking for students who think entrepreneurially.”

Rebekah Cooper, assistant director for Enactus’ U.S. programs and who trained as an EP10 coach through Gallup, said the self-awareness piece of the EP10 is beneficial in helping students make decisions and position themselves for success.

“I think that for any employee -- within an organization or as an entrepreneur -- to have self-awareness, to know where their talents are, to know where they have an opportunity to grow, to know where to get the best bang for their buck and also to know how to build a team around themselves to position themselves for success -- is critical,” Rebekah said. 

One of Rebekah’s primary goals is to help students set their own goals and frame them themselves. Through coaching calls, students involved in the pilot program are encouraged to clearly articulate their own goals with Enactus staff. 

“Once the students say [their goals] out loud and write them down, that makes them more concrete and they’re more likely to stick with them,” Rebekah said.

Team building is part of Enactus’ curriculum, and the EP10 can help students build the right teams.

“[EP10] can be really helpful as they structure [their teams] -- as they recruit new members or as they determine who’s working on a project they can develop,” Rebekah said. “They can … account for all 10 of those talents within their team. And the theory is that their projects will be more successful -- stronger projects with better outcomes.”

Discover your entrepreneurial talents with Gallup’s EP10.

Visit Gallup Strengths Center.


Becky McCarville is a writer at Gallup. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and is currently working toward her master's in English.

Becky's top five strengths are: Learner, Achiever, Responsibility, Maximizer and Input.


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