By Cliff Ennico

I was recently tapped to be one of several “Entrepreneurs in Residence” who are joining forces to develop a Student Entrepreneur Center at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.

The Center is a first-of-its-kind program, designed to instill the spirit of entrepreneurship in all of the University’s students, undergraduate and postgraduate, regardless of their academic major or level of exposure to the business world (most candidates so far have come from disciplines as diverse as homeopathy, chiropractic, nursing, design, engineering, psychology and public policy).

The Center will be creating a diverse array of programs tailored for students at different levels of education and experience. To kick things off, interested students will be divided into three categories:

  • “Student entrepreneurs” – those with actual business plans they want to launch, who would be granted 24/7 access to the Center’s physical space and other resources, receive constant mentoring from the Entrepreneurs in Residence with specific goals and deadlines, and receive funds from the Center to travel to conferences and “pitch meetings,” form corporations and limited liability companies, and pay some of the basic expenses of getting a real business off the ground;
  • “Student entrepreneurs in training” who have a specific idea with potential but who need to develop a viable business plan – these students would be required to take an online tutorial showing them how to build a business plan, and prepare their plans step by step under the supervision of the Entrepreneurs in Residence; and
  • “Student entrepreneurs in pre-training” – basically all other students who are interested in entrepreneurship but do not have a specific idea to start with.

It should not surprise my readers that I volunteered to put together the program for the third group of students, those with only a vague idea for a business, and “dreamers” who just like the idea of being their own boss someday.

You may ask, why? Why not spend your time on the more advanced students whose ideas may actually come to something?

Well, for a number of reasons. I like a challenge, for one thing, and while there is plenty of academic material available to MBA-level entrepreneurship students, there is little content available for students outside of business schools to learn basic entrepreneurial skills. One of the surest ways to get me to do anything is to tell me “it’s never been done before and no one is sure it can be done.”

More importantly, I feel the “pre-training” students are the largest, neediest, and most vulnerable group. The other two groups have “bought in” to the entrepreneurial process; this group is still on the fence. They are fascinated by entrepreneurs but intimidated by the process of becoming one, and are concerned that they do not have “what it takes”. Their ideas (if they even have any) are usually worthless, but their enthusiasm and passion are the basic building blocks that turn ordinary people into successful entrepreneurs. You have to handle these students with kid gloves or else they are likely to be turned off to entrepreneurship for the rest of their lives.

I have begun the process of putting together an intake form and questionnaire for these “pre-training” students, with the following questions (among others):

Why do you want to become an entrepreneur? Is it the money, the fame, or do you want to do something good for the world? Are you fascinated by a certain type of technology? Or is it something else?

Why do you think you would make a good entrepreneur? Do you have parents or other relatives who run their own business? Have you ever worked for a small business or startup company?

Successful businesses are all about solving problems. What problems do you feel are so important you are willing to devote your working life to help solve them?

Successful businesses are all about serving and helping particular types or groups of people with specific needs. Describe the types of people you want to spend your life serving. Why do you care about these people?

You are going to have to work very long hours to build an entrepreneurial company, so you will need to enjoy the work you are doing. What sorts of activities are you passionate about? What things do you enjoy doing so much that when you are doing them, time seems to stand still and you lose track of how much time you spend doing them?

When you were 18 years old, what did you dream of becoming when you finished your education?

If someone came up to you and offered to invest $1 million to help you launch a business – any business at all – and you decided that he or she is “for real,” what business would you start? Remember, it has to be a business, not something else!

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, of course. But I’m thinking they just might get a student in the right frame of mind to come up with a really interesting business idea. We’ll see.

Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at COPYRIGHT 2015 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Follow him at @cliffennico.