By John Ochs
Justin Timberlake, left, and Jesse Eisenberg played a couple of first-class entrepreneurs in the motion picture “The Social Network.” Photo by Merrick Morton, Columbia Pictures.

As an entrepreneurial educator for more than 30 years, I’ve often been plagued by the question of why so many successful entrepreneurs feel they need to drop out of school to be successful.

I’ve worked to answer that question by establishing programs at Lehigh University that provide a curriculum and support structure to encourage and inspire entrepreneurial student startups.

I’ve developed the Ten Tenets of An Entrepreneurial Mindset, which I like to share with my students.

These tenets, culled from years of research, experiences and sources, are meant to encourage students to solve problems creatively, launch their own startups and improve our collective economic future.

1. Innovation fueled by creativity is this generation’s most important economic development engine. To paraphrase Lee Iacocca (a Lehigh University grad), “Educate to innovate and automate or you will be forced to emigrate or evaporate!”

2. The greatest opportunities for innovation occur at the intersection of disciplines. This doesn’t mean we eliminate disciplines or all become generalists. It means to look in the intellectual space between and across disciplines for the greatest opportunities for innovation.

3. Innovation is a process that has several facets and/or steps that can be learned by doing it. I believe the sooner students experience an innovation process, the better they are able to practice it themselves.

4. The greatest chance for entrepreneurial startups to be successful comes with management teams that have diverse, interdisciplinary, globally oriented backgrounds and that have experienced the innovation process many times.

5. All constraints are self-imposed. You have ownership of the conditions under which you are developing your idea, product and company. As such, all constraints and assumptions, including technical, economic or social ones, must be challenged.

6. A track record of ethical behavior leads to trust and faith in your ability to lead and deal with the inherent risk associated with new ventures. Ethical behavior leads to trust and loyalty that will definitely be challenged during the startup process.

7. Risk is always present with innovation. Quantifying it, understanding it without letting it scare you to inaction, is a key to success. Innovation is measured in value. Be sure to look at the value of your enterprise, which requires examining both the risks and the benefits.

8. Fail early and often to succeed sooner. Acknowledge and learn from your mistakes. Failure is a great teacher.

9. It takes a team and leadership of that team to succeed. The team can be co-located or geographically dispersed. Regardless, recognition of the team’s and individual contributions is critical for success that is sustainable.

10. Entrepreneurs are needed to find and assess opportunities, identify and manage risk, manage the development-to-commercialization process, locate and manage resources, and lead the team by example of work ethic, moral and professional behavior.

At Lehigh University, we give students a safe environment to understand through experience what it means to develop products, to struggle and to successfully launch a venture.

Efforts are informed by entrepreneurship and innovation courses across three undergraduate colleges.

Students are supported by an infrastructure that includes our nationally recognized undergraduate Integrated Product Development (IPD) program, entrepreneurship minor, master’s degree in technical entrepreneurship, and Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, which provides resources across campus to enable entrepreneurial ventures to launch and prosper.

Entrepreneurial seeds planted today become tomorrow’s successful enterprises. I want to inspire students to embrace entrepreneurship as a way of thinking, not only in their chosen fields but in their professional roles, whether they found a startup or work for a company or nonprofit. Our future depends on implementing their innovative ideas.

John Ochs, Ph.D., is founding director of the Master’s in Technical Entrepreneurship and undergraduate Integrated Product Development programs, affiliated with the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, and professor of mechanical engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

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