How should the University promote entrepreneurship to the student body? This question was raised two weeks ago in a column that ran in this newspaper titled “Entrepreneurship is good, but responsible entrepreneurship is better.”
The article, by Daily Texan columnist Sid Sridhar, argued that the University “must ensure that our entrepreneurs make the public good the goal of their every project.”
The public good is a noble cause. But the University ensuring that all startups work for the public good might lead to regulations being made by administrators who aren’t entrepreneurs themselves. These administrators, consequently, may fail to see the potential in many viable companies. We need a culture on campus where the entrepreneurs, not University administrators, are responsible for ensuring the good intentions of their ventures.
Startups grow through the actualization of entrepreneurs’ goals. As entrepreneurs grow their ventures, they create jobs and generate wealth. That wealth is often used for philanthropy, or to build public facilities such as the Dell Medical School or the Gates Computer Science Complex. The end goal for promoting entrepreneurship through a university, then, is to create more wealth for more people in the community. Maybe, instead of ensuring that each startup to come out of UT has been rubber-stamped as “good for society” before it even gets a chance to be successful, we should encourage consumers to make socially conscious purchases, which would in turn empower socially-conscious startups to succeed.
Entrepreneurs are most successful when allowed to compete in free markets without artificially high barriers to entry. And in the free market, consumers — not the entrepreneurs themselves — decide who wins. When we start developing policies to ensure the benevolence of our entrepreneurs, we impede this context of freedom, and we undermine the role of consumers in the marketplace. We start doing both entrepreneurs’ and consumers’ jobs for them.
In no way am I discounting the value of social entrepreneurship. New ventures aiming to solve global problems are great. Also, I am in no way saying that starting a company without thinking about the societal impact of your product is a good idea; socially irresponsible ventures will gain little traction, anyway.
What the University should ultimately ensure is diversity in the entrepreneurial opportunities on campus. We need engineering entrepreneurs, liberal arts entrepreneurs, business entrepreneurs and music entrepreneurs. Students in every college should have and understand the option to become an entrepreneur. The University should encourage colleges to expose their students to the entrepreneurial 40 Acres, not just to usher them into corporate jobs.
Spiller is a rhetoric and writing senior from Grand Blanc, Mich. Follow Spiller on Twitter @Nick_Spiller.