The Next Chapter: Supporting Entrepreneurship in Fargo and Beyond
I'm joining North Dakota State University as the Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives. Join me on this journey.
Today, my past lives in education, community-building and entrepreneurship combine as I start a new position as the first-ever Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives at North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND. (Fancy title, but kind of blank website. Don’t worry, I’m working on it. In the meantime, follow the journey here.)
I am thrilled for this new opportunity, where I’m tasked with launching an entrepreneurship center in the university. That work will include teaching, creating events, connecting with resources on campus and in the community and looking for what NDSU, Fargo and North Dakota need to build a more dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem. I’ll also be responsible for allocating money from a generous, anonymous donation to support entrepreneurial efforts.
I think the job can best be summed up by my first day: Welcome. Here’s your office. We’re excited to see what you do. No playbook, no “here’s how it’s done.” A blue sky approach to an important topic and challenge.
That’s why our family decided to relocate for this opportunity. It’s an essential topic and skill for students, businesses and the health of our communities. The freedom to discover what the role should entail brings the energy of working in a start-up. The challenge is complex, but the rewards are great.
I believe NDSU and Fargo will create the blueprint other land-grant universities and communities use to strengthen their own ecosystems. In short, our efforts impact our campus, community, state and country.
“NDSU and Fargo will create the blueprint other land-grant universities and communities use to strengthen their own ecosystems.”
Three Beliefs About Entrepreneurship
I’m excited about the potential, and this energy is grounded in three core beliefs that I look forward to testing in my new role.
1. Entrepreneurship Can Be Taught and Developed
Entrepreneurship for our purposes is really the entrepreneurial mindset. It’s the ability to see what is around you and make it better. I like to think about it as chefs versus cooks.
A chef looks at what’s in the kitchen and makes something amazing with what they have. A cook reads the recipe and follows the instructions exactly.
For generations, the goal of our education system was cooks. We needed workers for the Industrial Revolution, so we prepared students to follow rules and do what was expected of them.
Today, we are in the midst of a Connection Revolution. My students at NDSU will have 12-15 jobs in their lifetime. 65% of the jobs that will exist when my five-year old daughter Amelia enters the workplace do not exist today. In this environment, we need critical thinkers who can quickly adjust to new environments and add value in their company, non-profit or own enterprise.
I believe this ability to identify opportunity and take action can be taught and developed. It might come from the classroom in a learning environment. Often, it will be developed by working alongside other entrepreneurs, taking risks in the safe environment of the university system and connecting with mentors and peer cohorts. I believe NDSU can teach and develop chefs.
2. Entrepreneurship Should Be Taught and Developed
Entrepreneurship is really about workforce development. Successful start-ups and businesses are sometimes the by-products.
The average age of a start-up founder is 42, so most of the students will not leave NDSU and immediately launch a start-up. However, the students can leave with the ability to add value wherever they end up working. This ability to be a chef is a skill that is essential for the work of the future. In a state like North Dakota, where there is a shortage of workers to begin with, training our students to contribute in the connection economy should be the core of our mission.
The beauty of a land-grant university, like North Dakota State, is that we are called to fulfill this exact mission, to “promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life” as the Morril Act of 1862, which created the land-grant university system, states. NDSU reiterates this in their mission statement noting that “NDSU addresses the aspirations of people in a changing world by building on our land-grant foundation.”
An entrepreneurial mindset prepares students to return to their communities with the skills they need to create new opportunities. Today, this isn’t happening. Entrepreneurship is at it’s lowest level in 30 years and only 1 in 10 new businesses are created in rural areas compared to double that just 30 years ago. For North Dakota and other rural states to survive, entrepreneurship is a necessity. It should be taught and developed.
“An entrepreneurial mindset prepares students to return to their communities with the skills they need to create new opportunities.”
3. Entrepreneurship Must Be Shared
The importance of entrepreneurship for our communities means we cannot focus internally. Instead, we need to connect, share what we learn and learn from others. The faster NDSU and Fargo build a vibrant ecosystem of entrepreneurial activity, the faster our community and state will grow.
With this in mind, a major focus of my work will be connection and transparency.
We want to connect with the activities already happening across the Fargo-Moorhead area, the state of North Dakota, and the Upper Midwest in general. We don’t need to create or own opportunities. We want to maximize the number of students who can participate in opportunities, regardless of major, interest, background, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. Then, we want to provide depth, so the students most interested in entrepreneurship can learn and develop their skills.
We also want to share what we are doing. That’s why I will be sharing as many details as possible along the way as we build the center, including budget, programming, challenges and lessons. If NDSU and Fargo can prove that entrepreneurship can, and should, be taught and developed, other universities and communities can steal our ideas and further the impact of our work.
“The faster NDSU and Fargo build a vibrant ecosystem of entrepreneurial activity, the faster our community and state will grow.”
Join Us on the Journey
We will be sharing the journey on this medium blog initially, as we create everything from a brand to a web page. I’ll also email subscribers on this blog as well. Sign-up here. Also look for Instagram stories here.
The challenge and opportunity in the Connection Revolution is that no one is the ultimate gatekeeper. We need you to share your ideas and learnings with us, so we can improve our community and practices. We will do the same.
Together, I believe we can teach and develop an entrepreneurial mindset in our students and citizens. Ultimately, this work will create the communities we want to be a part of.