Tim Holcomb: Teaching Entrepreneurship


Dr. Tim Holcomb, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Chair of the Department of Entrepreneurship in the Farmer School of Business at Miami University, sat down with us during season 1 of Fast Frontiers, and discussed teaching.


I’ve long thought that the students at Miami University are blessed to have access to such a legend and wise mentor in Tim. And the opportunity to get into Tim’s mind and really learn what it means to teach entrepreneurship effectively was incredible.


According to Tim, so much of the power and effectiveness in molding burgeoning entrepreneurs lies in possessing a proactive mindset. “I like to say we don’t teach students about entrepreneurship; we teach them to do it,” Tim stated.


Tim was also quick to clarify that entrepreneurship attracts all kinds, and for this reason, teaching entrepreneurship should be approached accordingly with this in mind. “If I looked across the graduates from Miami, who have gone on to do really wonderful things in the startup ecosystem, a large majority of those were not business school majors. You had interactive media studies, mechanical engineering, philosophy majors, liberal arts. And so I think one thing that we’ve learned is that entrepreneurship is eclectic, in that it’s interdisciplinary in the way in which we work together with disciplines from lots of different areas.”


So how does Miami University (with Tim’s help, of course) accomplish this? Tim shared that they have developed a remarkably effective strategy, which Tim describes as “the three pillars.” He explained each, starting with the first: “One is that we built a set of curricula and co-curricula programs that are truly interdisciplinary in nature. And evidence of that is last year we had over 2,800 students take at least one course in entrepreneurship. For the first time ever, we had at least one student from every major across campus participate in the program; that’s all 116 undergraduate majors.”


Tim followed up those impressive statistics by revealing that he’s not aware of any other university that can attest to having at least one student from every major involved in their program. Another thing that’s important to know, according to Tim, is that “We’re a co-major.”


He explained why this is so revolutionary: “By being a co-major, we’re basically telling students we don’t want you to major in entrepreneurship. We want you to major in mechanical engineering. We want you to major in interactive media studies. We want you to major in economics or finance or accounting. Get a co-major in entrepreneurship, and we’re going to teach you how to apply those skills to solve real problems.”


In essence, Miami is molding multi-talented, highly skilled Renaissance men and women to go out and thrive in the real world environment once University days are over. This versatility and well-rounded education really gives them a leg up in the market.


The second pillar relates to that proactive mentality Tim mentioned earlier. Tim explained that “The second important pillar of what we do is that we’ve created a program that is wholly practice-based and immersive in our approach.” He added, “The challenge we face is that today is we want to give students as many shots on goal as possible, with the fundamental belief that when they move beyond Miami, and they graduate and go out into the real world, that they are job-ready day one.”


Tim further explained that more than just book smarts, their program focuses on practical knowledge: “Central to the design of what we do in our program is this fundamental belief in the transformative power of learning by doing.”


Tim shared one of his favorite stories about students that launched a high-growth company in the Midwest—two young men who started Oros when they graduated in 2015. They were the first two individuals to successfully infuse aerogel into foam in a patented technology called SOLARCORE . Michael Markesbery and Rithvik Venna, two Midwesterners, “looked at a technology that had been used for 50 years by NASA, a technology called aerogel, and they asked a simple question—why can’t we commercialize?” The two young men “figured out an incredible technological advance that today stands on the precipice … of completely disrupting the market as we know it,” Tim added. They’ve since raised over $10 million in angel and venture funding from NCT Ventures, Listen Ventures, Break Trail Ventures and others. They also  graduated from The Brandery in Cincinnati.


To learn about the third pillar Tim eludes to, discover why the Midwest is such a marketable place right now, and even hear an appropriate analogy using basketball and Michael Jordan, head over to listen to the full podcast.