Iowa State University has amped up its entrepreneurship offerings, adding a bachelor’s degree and a new doctorate this year. 

Like many other colleges and universities, and business organizations, ISU is looking for ways to encourage students to innovate and create. You never know who will come up with an idea that turns into a good living, or becomes Facebook or Microsoft and provides thousands of paychecks.

David Spalding, Raisbeck Endowed Dean of ISU’s College of Business, said the new degrees were added based on the needs of students and area businesses. ISU already offered a minor in entrepreneurship. Now, both business majors and those in other fields who want to dabble in innovation will be able to find a curriculum that makes sense, Spalding said.

ISU’s first doctoral students in entrepreneurship began their studies in August. That program, said Spalding, is about preparing students to teach and conduct groundbreaking research. They will focus on entrepreneurship, innovation and technology management by participating in research seminars, joint research projects with faculty, and academic conferences. The hope is they will publish articles in academic journals before they graduate.

“We’re teaching them to teach,” Spalding said. “Entrepreneurship is one of the fastest-growing areas of study at universities in the country.”

Although the bachelor’s degree students will be able to take some related coursework now, too, that program won’t officially hit the course catalog until fall 2017. The bachelor’s degree will focus on “Shark Tank”-style innovation, the type of business creation that fuels small businesses — which long have been where most Americans work, Spalding said. 

“The bachelor’s is really the one that is going to develop the students to start and work in small businesses in this state,” Spalding said. “That program will nurture the students who might have the idea for the next great social media connection or the next great consumer product. But we also are training students to be employee No. 10 or employee No. 24 for a company.”

“We want them to operate in a business environment where you really need to be a Swiss Army knife,” Spalding said. “You really have to have a broad assortment of skills because you don’t have the big support in finance or accounting or marketing that you have in a large company. One of the points of this program is developing a breadth of skills for these students.”

In addition to the newly designed doctorate and bachelor’s degrees at ISU, there is talk of adding a master’s program later, Spalding added.  

How did all this evolve?

“We’re a land-grant institution and we have a mission to serve the people of Iowa,” Spalding said in an interview on campus. “As I look at economic development in this state, it is the case in the United States that small businesses are job creation engines in this country. If we want to sustain and strengthen the economy here in Iowa, strengthening small businesses has to be an important part of that mission.”

“This was building on a strength at Iowa State. We already had an interdisciplinary minor in entrepreneurship” that is offered through all seven colleges, Spalding said. The Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship has offered experiences outside the classroom. Then came the doctorate, approved earlier this year, and now the recently approved bachelor’s program. 

“So we had some building blocks to really help create jobs in Iowa, which is what I think this entrepreneurship program will do,” Spalding added. 

And how do these students learn to innovate? Well, for starters, they get the chance to develop a business plan for a new product. They will work with the Pappajohn Center to participate in pitch competitions. CyStarters is an incubator that offers some seed grants.

Pappajohn, which is located at the ISU Research Park, is likely to increase its offerings in the incubator to serve the new majors, Spalding said. 

The innovation becomes important in a downturn like 2008, when many workers lose their jobs at big companies. “That brings an infusion of energy into entrepreneurism,” Spalding said. “You see that after every downturn that happens in our country.”

The bachelor’s degree candidates will get around the whole business college, taking specialized classes in accounting, marketing and other topics. Elective courses will come from around the university, in agriculture, human sciences, marketing, engineering or computer science, for example.

The entrepreneurship degrees aren’t the only new initiatives, Spalding said. ISU also is looking at a new interdisciplinary degree in business analytics and a master’s degree in real estate development, more steps in response to demands from the market.

The real estate courses could look at everything from how to set a value on farmland to using analytics in real estate deals and sustainable practices. “There is a lot of interest in this among real estate companies,” Spalding said. 

“We’re going to continue to look at what the needs of the state of Iowa are, where there are gaps of experience that need to be filled and where we have particular expertise to bring to bear.”

Spalding and his colleagues do that with regular meetings with business leaders, some of whom serve on separate advisory councils for each major or the overall dean’s advisory council.

“Probably 25 percent of the days I’ve worked at ISU I’ve been down in Des Moines for at least one meeting,” Spalding said. “I’ve also reached out to Cedar Rapids and Iowa City and other towns.”

Judi Eyles, assistant director of the Pappajohn Center, said when she came to ISU 20 years ago, an entrepreneurship major probably wouldn’t have flown. Now current students demand one and recent graduates often bemoan the fact that they missed the chance, she said.

Eyles said some students will double major in one of the basics — accounting, marketing, finance — and entrepreneurism to broaden their options and to soothe the minds of parents who get nervous if their child boldly plans to create the next Microsoft, but could fall short.

Pappajohn, which just moved into the new Economic Development Core Facility at the ISU Research Park, helps stage pitch competitions and other activities that give students a chance to try exploring possible new businesses. But ISU also wants to teach students how to work in a company, big or small, Eyles said.

The new degrees are the latest step.