North Central College - Naperville, IL

Millennial Entrepreneurs: Creating Their Own Niche

With the support of faculty, ever-evolving technologies, creative ideas and new emerging funding sources, young millennial entrepreneurs are finding ways to create their own niche in the business world. And many are gaining important lessons in entrepreneurship outside the parameters of economics and business, in North Central courses in theatre, anthropology, computer science, art and more.

“In every theatre class I teach, I talk about being an entrepreneur and thinking as a business entity—writing off expenses, marketing and dealing with contracts, agents and unions,” says Carin Silkaitis, assistant professor of theatre. “I also have students who very much want to start their own theatre companies someday.”

The message that entrepreneurs can create their own success stories resonates across the campus, thanks in no small part to the introduction of an entrepreneurship class in 1987 by Gary Ernst, professor of international business and marketing emeritus. That was followed by the addition of an entrepreneurship major in 2000 and the Self-Employment in the Arts Conference in 2001, which in 2013, attracted representatives of 40 colleges and universities to learn about making a living in the arts. Ernst was named Coleman Foundation Professor of Entrepreneurship and Small Business in 1999 and North Central College continues to attract significant grant funding from the foundation, which to date has totaled $2.44 million.

The cultivation of entrepreneurship skills within a comprehensive liberal arts curriculum is a key factor in the success of the Coleman partnership. “We’ve been able to award Coleman Fellows to North Central professors who integrate entrepreneurship into their curriculum,” says Brian Hanlon, who was named the new Coleman Foundation Professor of Entrepreneurship in 2011. “They decide how to best use the funding to engage entrepreneurship within their disciplines.”

As a Coleman Fellow, Silkaitis uses her funding toward a swanky showcase event in Chicago for senior theatre majors. Agents view auditions of 10 top graduates, and in 2013 many were signed to contracts immediately. Turning theatre majors into professionals who earn a living at their art is her goal. “I ‘walk the talk’ by sharing my own experiences as an actor, theatre company owner, photographer and acting coach,” she says.

Entrepreneurship continues to inspire many Enactus (formerly Students In Free Enterprise) activities with coffee growers and artists in Guatemala. In addition, Matt Krystal, associate professor of anthropology, is building on his connections with Hopi artists in Arizona. “I hope to use the Coleman Fellowship to accelerate our collaboration with the Hopitutuqaiki (Hopi Art School) in the development of business education units so the artists will be prepared to work as self-employed artists,” he says.

Caroline St. Clair, professor of computer science, is also a Coleman Fellow. “In the computer science capstone course, students develop an awareness of entrepreneurial opportunities through case studies on intellectual property issues, guest lectures and participating on a real-world project team,” she says. “We typically have students who have their own consulting business and/or are working for start-up companies.”

Of course, many fledgling and established businesses result from the creativity of economics and business majors, too. Hanlon adds: “Business majors want to be self-employed and need creative ideas to focus on. We want to give them all the opportunity to become successful.”