The Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, MO. Judith Cone, vice president of emerging strategies for the Kauffman Foundation, discusses her work and findings exploring new program opportunities that advance entrepreneurship and education.During the interview Russ and Judith discuss her open letter to college students 'Where Goodness Lies'.

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Entrepreneurship: The Path To Economic Stability

Judith Cone discusses what it means to be an entrepreneur.

Judith Cone

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Russ is on-the-road at The Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, MO. Judith Cone, vice president of emerging strategies for the Kauffman Foundation, discusses her work and findings exploring new program opportunities that advance entrepreneurship and education.During the interview Russ and Judith discuss her open letter to college students 'Where Goodness Lies'.

Full Interview text

Russ: This is The BusinessMakers Show, heard here and online at thebusinessmakers.com, and it's featured guest time, and this morning I'm out on the road once again actually in Kansas City, Missouri at the epicenter of championing and teaching entrepreneurship, I'm at the Kauffman Foundation with Judith Cone, vice president of emerging strategies. Judith, thank you for having me and welcome to the businessmakers show.

Judith: Russ, thank you. It's so great to be with you.

Russ: Well, let's start by you telling us about the Kauffman Foundation.

Judith: This is one of my favorite things to talk about, of course. Ewing Kauffman was an amazing man; he started as a farm boy with nothing, very poor family. And from that, over one lifespan he became a billionaire. He created 3,000 great-paying jobs in Kansas City in his pharmaceutical company. He owned the Kansas City Royals baseball team. He was a great philanthropist and he ended up saying, "What do I want my philanthropy to do?" And he said, "Look at my life, starting from nothing and I was able to create 3,000 great jobs." And in fact, when his merger of his company happened in the '80s, 300 people became millionaires.

Russ: Whoa.

Judith: And these were not just executives; these were line workers, secretaries, janitors and the executive team. And so he believed in people and he said, "I want my foundation to promote entrepreneurship as a path towards self-determination and economic stability for individuals.

Russ: Whoa. That's pretty cool. All these 300, all of them, though, were employees or-

Judith: Yes.

Russ: --at one time or another?

Judith: Yes, they were-when he merged, they were employees and he kept saying, "Trust me. Believe in this company, buy some stock because we're going to have a strategic initiative here where it's going to turn out really great, and he cared for all levels of people, not just the top executives.

Russ: Well, based upon my homework it seems like the foundation is really following his wishes and now he's been gone for 15 years now, correct?

Judith: Yes, he has, but he left us probably the most extensive writings and videotapes. He wanted no questions left unanswered about what his intent was for his foundation. And we take that very seriously. You know, every foundation talks about donor intent.

Russ: Right.

Judith: And we don't just talk about it; we immerse ourselves in it. Every new employee gets immersed in the actual words, not the translated vision of the founder. And he was very, very, explicit, "Do this. Promote entrepreneurship. Create more people like me so that we can offer independence to other people."

Russ: Well, that is a great, great story, and I assume, perhaps in the beginning was it known and practiced more locally right here in Kansas City? Or from the very beginning did he have a global perspective on what he wanted accomplished?

Judith: I think he really cared about Kansas City. He was so dedicated to this community and it shows in all the actions that he took. But he also had a national view and so our work from the very beginning was dual, entrepreneurship and education. So most of the education work was focused here in Kansas City, and the entrepreneurship work was nationally. Now since his death and times have changed and the world is flat and all of that, we definitely have taken a global perspective. But he loved Kansas City and we start there and then we expand from that.

Russ: Okay. You mentioned entrepreneurship and education and obviously those two overlap quite a bit as well. I'm very familiar with some of the initiatives here at the foundation focused on teaching entrepreneurship. Share that with us a bit though.

Judith: We have a program called Fast Track. It was sort of Mr. Kauffman's idea to do this, so it has a special place in our hearts because this was his idea. And he said rather than inventing a program ourselves, let's go out, do an environmental scan. Let's find the best programs out there and then let's see what we can do with them. And that's what we did with the Fast Track Program. And so we have been teaching that program for 14 years; I think nearly more than a million people have actually gone through the program. It is put on in a local community by a service provider, often a small business development center, Chambers of Commerce, universities, colleges and our staff puts that program on, teaches the teacher and then they deliver it. It's a very intensive program; it takes about 100 hours for a person to go through this program. It's mostly a non-credit program. And this is where people that even have been in business ten years, like a person here in Kansas City, someone I knew, she said, "I'm going to take the Fast Track Program." And I said, "Well, you're a pretty successful business person; I'm not sure this is right for you." And she said, "Well, I'm taking it because everybody in Kansas City talks about it and I'm not going to be left out." So I said, "Well, if you get into it we'll refund your money if you think it's not sophisticated enough." And she ended up staying with the program and she spoke at graduation. And she said, "I've been in business ten years; I have a multi-million dollar business. This is the first time I really ever understood business." She said, "I'm good at sales and marketing."

Russ: Right.

Judith: "But I am not good-and you taught me to work on my business, not in my business, and many other things." So she was a big proponent. So it is applicable, and since that time we've created other versions of it for technology entrepreneurship and just keep expanding it.

Russ: Well, I know that Kauffman had been a leader also on the subject of whether or not entrepreneurship can be taught. I've heard that from several around the country, because it apparently was Mr. Kauffman's opinion that it could be taught.

Judith: Absolutely. I think that a person can learn the skills of anything, and being an entrepreneur has a vast array of skills. When you think about an entrepreneur, they're really a generalist-

Russ: Right.

Judith: --because they have to know a little bit about a lot of things. so they have to know enough about technology to trust the right technology advisors, and buy the right technology. You have to know enough about law not to be taken to the cleaners by someone who says they know. they have to know how to work with people to create an environment that brings forth the greatest potential out of every person they hire. They have to know so many things: They have to know the market; they have to know their customer. On and on and on, it's the most complex set of skills and elements of all of those skills are things that you need to learn. Now can we predict ahead of time that you're going to be a great entrepreneur? No one can do that, and when you go to medical school and you learn all of it, we don't know if you're going to be a superstar-

Russ: That's right.

Judith: --doctor or a mediocre doctor or what. So yes, I firmly believe it can be taught.

Russ: Great. Well, we're talking with Judith Cone, Vice President of Emerging Strategies at the Kauffman Foundation. Next we're going to be talking about entrepreneurship education at the university level. You're listening to the Businessmaker's Show, heard here and online at the businessmakers.com.

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Russ: This is the Businessmaker's Show, heard here and online at the businessmakers.com. And continuing on with Judith Cone, Vice President of Emerging Strategies at the Kauffman Foundation. Well, Judith, we were just talking about the commitment to entrepreneurship and education and I know another area where those two overlap is at the university level. It is my opinion that nobody champions entrepreneurship learning at major universities more so than the foundation. And I also know you happen to play a pretty big role in that, in getting the foundation to where it is today. Tell us about that.

Judith: We believe that at the college level, especially major universities, are repositories of great knowledge, skills, ideas and potential innovations for society. And society has put a lot of money into these institutions, so we want to see how we can maximize the output from these universities. So when we first started investing in entrepreneurship education on the college level, we started with the business school. That makes great sense, right?

Russ: Right.

Judith: So we were very happy with the progress there, and it occurred to us as we looked at the tech boom, a lot of the businesses coming out of Silicon Valley were coming out of engineering schools.

Russ: Right.

Judith: And so we decided, well, we need to go there.

Russ: Okay.

Judith: And so that was our next progression.

Russ: So entrepreneurship offered at the business school and the engineering school.

Judith: Exactly. So we helped initiate a program led by Stanford where they got engineering schools together to talk about the role of entrepreneurship. And that was a great synergistic partnership, those two ideas, because engineers actually like to make things and get them to the marketplace. So this was a natural fit.

Russ: Makes sense.

Judith: Now, the next progression is that we began to realize that we were limiting the audience and the customer base, and so it occurred to us what if. And the great thing about philanthropies like ours is you can experiment. You don't have to have all of the answers, because if we can't experiment, then who is going to be able to do that?

Russ: Right, of course.

Judith: So we said, "Let's engage in a big experiment. What if we select just a few schools, schools that want to test this idea. And here was the big idea. What if we do cross-campus entrepreneurship and let's push several themes." Entrepreneurship is applicable to any person on the campus. That's the first idea. And the second is that when inter-disciplinary exercises and study happens, the output is much greater for society. So we combined those two themes and we started a program that we call Kauffman campuses.

Russ: I love the idea. So when you do this, you're probably not talking about multiple courses; maybe it's just a couple of entrepreneurship courses?

Judith: The idea was to let each school design their own program. So we didn't have a cookie cutter; we said to the school that wanted to go along this experiment with us, "Tell us what you think is right for your school." Every school has a different focus, a different audience, customers, students are different, communities are different. And so we invited 30 schools to give us proposals and we got 30 wildly different ideas.

Russ: Okay.

Judith: They had to be comprehensive for the university.

Russ: Okay, but were they all immediately interested or did you get any pushback?

Judith: Only the schools that were interested came to the RFP level, so I'm sure there were schools that weren't interested, but we didn't hear from them because it was only those who were interested were the ones that came on.

Russ: Okay. And so with these 30, they now implemented their version of your suggestion.

Judith: Right. Out of that 30 we selected eight, and those eight schools now are finishing a five-year cycle. And they have learned so much, and each one of them did it very differently. And what was interesting about that first five is we decided to do a second round, and we made available to the second group all of the information from the first five.

Russ: Okay.

Judith: Because we didn't want any reinventing the wheel.

Russ: Right.

Judith: And the first five were very gracious; they consulted with all the other schools and we saw a real step forward in the next group because they had the benefit of lessons learned.

Russ: Okay. and so the next group, how far along are they now?

Judith: They are in year two, and I think what's interesting about this group is we partnered with a foundation in Ohio, the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. And their founder was very similar in age and circumstances to Mr. Kauffman, and he had the same idea about his foundation. He really wanted to promote free enterprise entrepreneurship. So we partnered, and they focus on Northeast Ohio, so they have a very small geographic area that they look at. But there are 17 liberal art schools there.

Russ: Wow.

Judith: So they said, "Let's see about partnering with them and so we have Overland College and Lake Eerie and several schools out of those 17 experimenting with entrepreneurship in the liberal arts, which is pretty radical for some schools.

Russ: It is. Well, Judith, that's why I'm interested in this topic, because I visited many entrepreneurship programs. Generally speaking, I'm totally impressed with the initiative because there was none of that in my era. But I sometimes sense a little bit of mixing oil and water between academia and those that choose business people to come in and run it. Bottom line of all of them is that they seem to be good, but it just seems to me that it ought to be easier for it to come together and make education sense at the academic level.

Judith: Right. I think that this is a tension that is prevalent, and I won't name the school, but in the early rounds there was a school that had a big controversy about whether this school should be participating. They're a liberal arts school; not one of the ones I've mentioned.

Russ: Okay.

Judith: And I got an email and this professor said to me, "Congratulations. You have just destroyed higher education." So I wrote back and I said, "Wow. First of all, I had no idea I was that powerful. Or that the Kauffman Foundation was that powerful."

Russ: Right, right.

Judith: And then the people at this school contacted me and said, "We're really sorry about this." I said, "Isn't this great. you all are having an amazing debate, and this is the kind of debate that must be held at liberal art schools." So if there was chaos around liberal arts and the concept of entrepreneurship, I was actually really pleased about that.

Russ: Well, that's cool.

Judith: I thought that was a good thing, and what has happened is people began to really peel back the layers and understand what we are trying to help students and faculty learn their resistance goes away. Because what is at the heart of what we're trying to teach? We are trying to teach students and faculty to learn this as they're trying to apply this, how to be innovators, how to learn a toolset that says it's great to have ideas. Ideas are prevalent; all of us came up with all kinds of ideas. But do we know how to take those and make them real? And that's what is the heart of entrepreneurship education.

Russ: Well, we love it on the Businessmaker's School. We're going to be back with more with Judith Cone, Vice President of Emerging Strategies with the Kauffman Foundation, after this. You're listening to the Businessmaker's Show, heard here and online at the businessmakers.com.

[Music]

[Aflac Commercial]

Russ: This is the Businessmaker's Show, heard here and online at the businessmakers.com. And continuing on with Judith Cone, Vice President of Emerging Strategies with the Kauffman Foundation. And Judith, I love that topic we were just talking about, the integration of the academic world with the business world. But I'm very familiar with the open letter you wrote to college students. I think you hit the nail right on the head there. share with our audience the essence of the open letter to college students.

Judith: Well, as I was working with all these amazing colleges, I came across so many young people that were inspiring and they want to make the world a better place. This is the consistent theme; they are not selfish people. They really care, and I was intrigued by the messages that some of these students were hearing from some of their professors. And as if there was not way to be a business person and be moral, ethical and make the world a better place. Mr. Kauffman firmly believed no matter what he did in his life, the thing he's most proudest of, he created great jobs. He said, "That's the greatest philanthropy; that's the greatest gift because it gives you control of your life." That's what motivated me to write this letter and it's called Where Does Goodness Lie. And the point of the letter to students is to challenge an assumption that to be a good, moral person of great character means that you have to avoid business. And I just do not believe that's true at all. For every horror story that we hear in the paper about an Enron, there are 50 stories of Mr. Kauffmans.

Russ: Absolutely. We always like to make the point on the Businessmaker's Show that these are the people that improve our lives, that make communications better, that cure diseases-

Judith: Absolutely.

Russ: --and all those great, great things.

Judith: Absolutely. They bring the products and services to the market; they invent new ways and it is all about who you are as an individual. And we know of specific leaders who are amazing contributors to society, and we know terrible other examples where we're seeing government leaders fail in the moral, ethic character aspect of life.

Russ: So and your point is in all these sectors of life there are real good people and there are bad people.

Judith: Absolutely. And what I want the message for young people in colleges is it is up to them to decide what kind of person they're going to be.

Russ: Right.

Judith: What kind of leader they're going to be. What is that unique opportunity they've been given? And I want them to leave school understanding they can apply that talent to any sector and they can make the world a better place through business, through social work, through education, through government. It isn't about the sector; it is about who they are and what's in their heart and that the business sector is just as great an opportunity for good as others.

Russ: Well, that's cool and we totally agree. As a matter of fact, for those of you that want to see the letter by Judith Cone called Where Goodness Lies, an open letter to college students, just go to the businessmakers.com and it will be right next to her interview. And Judith, I really appreciate you sharing your time with us. Do you have a little bit more time?

Judith: Sure.

Russ: Unfortunately we are out of time for the radio broadcast, but there's so much more to talk to Judith about that we're going to do a Businessmaker's WebXtra. And in fact, I want to home in on entrepreneurship internationally. I understand you know a bit about that as well?

Judith: Yes, Russ, I just came back from our first-ever global entrepreneurship week. We had 78 counties involved, thousands of events and young people. The goal of this week is to inspire and encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Russ: Globally, right?

Judith: Yes, absolutely.

Russ: Cool. So go to the businessmakers.com and look for the Businessmaker's WebXtra with Judith Cone. You've been listening to the Business Makers Show heard here and online at thebusinessmakers.com.

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