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Focus on Entrepreneurship: Luis Martins on Educating Entrepreneurs at McCombs

Luis Martins teaching

If you want to know about entrepreneurship at the McCombs School of Business, ask Luis Martins.

Martins wears multiple entrepreneurship hats: He is a professor in the school's Management Department, and in June became both department chair and director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship, Growth, and Renewal. This fall, Martins took on a role overseeing entrepreneurship at McCombs. He was named the school's entrepreneurship programs coordinator, a role created by the dean's office to ensure cooperation and avoid overlap among entrepreneurship faculty, department heads, and centers across UT.

He recently shared his thoughts on what's new — and what's next — on the entrepreneurship front at McCombs.  

How do you describe your newest role as entrepreneurship programs coordinator?

I work internally and externally. The internal coordination has two main parts: First, I connect faculty who teach courses on entrepreneurship. Once a semester, we get together to talk about what we are discussing in our classes, what we're covering conceptually, and how these classes tie together. By next semester, we hope to create path documents for students interested in entrepreneurship that direct them to specific classes.

The second coordination involves department chairs, program heads, and the deans running various programs. We get together and discuss what best serves our students, what’s being offered, and what’s being planned within each department.

The third coordination is with the entrepreneurship centers across campus. Once a month during the semester, all the center directors meet about driving the strategic agenda around entrepreneurship for the entire university. We have [Information, Risk, and Operations Management Professor] Bob Metcalfe from the Innovation Center, Isaac Barchas from Austin Technology Incubator, Scott Evans from the makerspace, Doreen Lorenzo from the Center for Integrated Design, and Josh Baer from Longhorn Startup — they are a few of about 18 directors total. We discuss how our efforts can dovetail so we're not duplicating but enhancing offerings.

What are the newest McCombs classes for entrepreneurs? 

An MBA course called Strategic Design Practicum: Innovation Through Design Thinking, which was introduced last year but modified and institutionalized this year, uses design thinking to inform new ideas, development, and business models.

On the undergraduate side, last year we introduced a very popular course called Lean Startup Essentials about how to prepare for the entrepreneurial journey.

We're introducing an entrepreneurship minor available to both McCombs and all students at the university. For that minor, we're developing four new courses. One, targeted at the sophomore level, is about how entrepreneurship works, both inside and outside organizations. The second is about going from your idea to a business plan you can pitch to investors, and all the different aspects of launching a new business. 

There is a new entrepreneurship practicum, where students can engage in different types of interactions with the entrepreneurial community, guided by conceptual frameworks.

Within the finance department, we're establishing a social impact center run by [Associate Dean for Research and Finance Professor] Laura Starks that will offer undergraduate and graduate practicums in social entrepreneurship. The first undergraduate practicum is scheduled for fall 2017 and the first MBA practicum is scheduled for spring 2018.

What about opportunities for entrepreneurs from across the university?

For next year, the Kelleher Center is planning an entrepreneurship ambassador fellowship program for very enterprising undergraduates. One student from each school on campus will be provided with instruction to become better entrepreneurs.

The intent is to go beyond our traditional entrepreneurial schools, such as engineering, natural sciences, and the business school. The university has many schools with entrepreneurial drive and potential. We want to have broader reach so that they'll engage more with McCombs School programs and with entrepreneurship in general. 

Are there any other changes to highlight outside of the classroom?

We are greatly increasing opportunities for our students to interact with the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Kelleher Center puts on an event every September called Intro to the UT & Austin Startup Ecosystem where we invite ecosystem companies — the organizations that support and facilitate entrepreneurship in Austin. We have a fair where they have booths, and students get to learn about what they do and where they fit within the entrepreneurship process. 

The Kelleher Center runs several speaker series and we have partnered with TexTalks, which is a student organization that interviews successful entrepreneurs and then puts out a podcast. 

One new initiative this year is the Ignite Startup Workshops on the mechanics of entrepreneurship. Our first event probably had about 50 attendees, but then the next event had 80, and then the next event had more than 100. We've had to move the event to avoid running up against a fire code problem. [Laughs.]

Twice a year, we have a summit on diversity in entrepreneurship. The last one focused on women in tech entrepreneurship. There was a lively discussion; it was very well attended. 

As for researchers, what's in the pipeline on the doctoral front?

In spring 2018, we're planning to introduce an annual doctoral consortium. We'll bring to campus 15 to 20 top entrepreneurship Ph.D. students who are about to hit the job market and senior entrepreneurship researchers from all over the world as mentors. We’ll do a two-day seminar where the doctoral students and top faculty interact around key topics on entrepreneurship and research trends.

My vision is that the top three to five Ph.D. graduates in entrepreneurship will think of UT Austin as their first choice for a job. It will also help us vet some senior faculty or get them interested in us. A lot of research is being done here, but people don't normally associate entrepreneurship research with UT, as they do in other research areas. I want that to happen with entrepreneurship as well, and my target is to reach that point within five years. 

Why does McCombs emphasize entrepreneurship education?

It's a golden time for entrepreneurship — not just launching startups, which would be the traditional definition, but also starting new projects within companies. That's often called corporate entrepreneurship or "intrapreneurship."

The pace of change has sped up because of information technology. For example, if you're General Electric Co., you need to come up with new businesses to compete with those that are trying to nip at your heels with service offerings or new products. Companies need people who can be entrepreneurial and drive these new businesses. 

Our curricula within the business school and the university need to reflect that. We want to have students who can out-compete their peers in the entrepreneurial economy of the future.

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