11/1/13 – An Entrepreneurial Education:Bridging History and Business

November 1, 2013

Today’s blog post was written by HannaLore Hein, SHRA’s fall intern.  Learn more about HannaLore here.

“Entrepreneurialism” and “History” are two words that don’t often end up in the same sentence… at least that has been my experience, until recently.

I have always had a passion for history, but I cannot say the same about entrepreneurialism. As an undergraduate history major at the University of Colorado at Boulder, I studied under Dr. Patty Limerick, a renowned Western American historian. I learned more about Western American history than I could have ever imagined. I gained historical perspectives on water rights, tribal issues, urban and rural development, and the extractive industry. While many of my experiences at the University of Colorado prepared me to take my classroom-acquired skills and knowledge and apply them to real world situations, I had a very narrow understanding of what that application looked like.

Enter the decision to apply to graduate school.

Students discussing their projects at Boise State University's Venture College.  Image from here.

Students discussing their projects at Boise State University’s Venture College. Image from here.

After four years of being trained to “think outside of the classroom,” I did not want to continue my studies, earn a Ph.D., and end up back in a classroom. After a lengthy search, I came across a program in Applied Historical Research at Boise State University. Wow! Here it was – a program that bridged the gap between the study of history and the real world. The more graduate level projects I completed, however, the more I craved opportunities for authentic interactions. I wanted to investigate the ways in which history and the real world really connected. I started asking the question, can you earn a living by bridging the gap between history and the present?

At about the same time I was wrestling with that question, Boise State University’s Division of Research launched Venture College – a program for students across all disciplines who sought to gain the skills needed to successfully launch their own businesses. Here was an opportunity, a real tangible opportunity, to explore the ideas that had been swirling around in my head for months. I immediately decided that I wanted to be a part of this, and so I applied. After a lengthy application process, I was accepted into the program along with thirteen other students representing a wide range of disciplines, including engineering, kinesiology, sociology, and English.

HannaLore Hein, in green, discussing her Venture College project.  Photo from here.

HannaLore Hein, in green, discussing her Venture College project. Photo from here.

Considering that most academics do not consider history and business together, I found myself challenged about what this opportunity would really mean. I was trained in history. I knew the methods, the processes, the facts; I could recognize trends, find connections, and draw conclusions. But what did I know about entrepreneurial start-ups and business – nothing.

Venture College officially began on August 30, 2013. The program is itself a flipped-classroom. There is no required reading, and I am not writing papers to demonstrate my understanding of key concepts. The Venture College curriculum is modeled after Eric Ries’ concept of the “Lean Startup,” meaning that I am expected to “get out of the building” and talk with potential customers to test my business hypotheses before launching any fundraising efforts. The premise is that once I have gathered enough data and talked with enough people to have a solid understanding of the market, I will have a better idea of whether the vision I have of launching a consulting firm that uses history as a tool for business development will actual work. Most importantly, however, throughout this process I will discover whether my idea equates to value for business, i.e. will this idea make enough money for me to live on.

Since Venture College launched, I have found myself busier than I have ever been. There is a reason that most people quit their day jobs to start their own businesses. When I agreed to participate in this program I was told to allocate ten hours per week to building my business idea, although at this point, I feel as though I am putting in twenty. But I am not complaining. I have been searching for this kind of opportunity for a long time. Although I will not have a stack of graded papers at the end of the semester to show my work, my efforts will manifest in other ways. I will have fostered relationships with potential customers and key partners. I will have built a sizable network of associates and mentors. I will have made real world mistakes and had real world successes. I might even find customers willing to cut a check. And most importantly I will have discovered the connection between entrepreneurialism and history. Thanks to Venture College, these two words, at least in my world, will forever be used in the same sentence.

(Editor’s Note:  For SHRA, entrepreneurialism and history are a well-suited match.  Click here and here to our “The Business of History” blog posts from earlier this year.