US Universities That Show You How to Become an Entrepreneur

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By Kate Sitarz
Last updated on August 9, 2023

If you are an international student with big dreams of becoming an entrepreneur, Shorelight university degree programs can set you up for success.

A female international student entrepreneur major stands in front of a glass wall covered in colorful sticky notes at her internship

Who is an entrepreneur and how does an international student become one? The word entrepreneur has many meanings: a person who starts a new business, or who is an innovator, or who invents and develops new ideas. In essence, entrepreneurs see a problem that needs solving and they come up with a way to solve it. The good news is, by developing the right skills, anyone can become an entrepreneur and choose what type of entrepreneur they want to be.

Small business entrepreneurs, such as owners of a gift shop or landscaping company, focus on supporting their family and perhaps hiring a few employees. Entrepreneurs who create start-ups are often building something brand new and have the potential to scale their business, but require major venture capital funding to get off the ground. 

Entrepreneurs may focus on a specific goal, like social entrepreneurs who believe doing good for the community and turning a profit are not separate interests. Serial entrepreneurs continuously start new businesses, often just getting them started before moving on to their next idea.

Even those who do not want to start a business may embrace entrepreneurial qualities in order to add value within their organization. 

For international students looking to become entrepreneurs, studying in the United States is a great decision. Ranked second in the world for entrepreneurship, the US is known for providing plenty of opportunities for innovation — and that is true of its universities, too.

How to Study Entrepreneurship at US Universities

Many US universities offer a major in entrepreneurship for undergraduates, while some MBA programs offer an entrepreneurship concentration or focus. These programs provide you with business administration and management skills in addition to hands-on experiences designed to prepare you to start, run, and grow your own business. 

However, you can also choose to minor in entrepreneurship, allowing you to pursue programs potentially unrelated to business. Take fine arts, for example. Perhaps you study for a degree in art and minor in entrepreneurship, giving you the skills you need to open your own gallery. Or you double major in computer science and entrepreneurship with the goal of building your own business that develops software programs.

You will want to talk with your advisor to make sure you can take the classes you need to pursue your goals. Your advisor can also help you identify other opportunities at your university, such as start-up labs, case competitions, or internship opportunities that will help you build your entrepreneurial skills. 

Qualities of Successful Entrepreneurs

Having a good idea is only the start. Entrepreneurs develop their ideas, design or make products, and raise capital; they plan and take the steps they believe will help them build their business and achieve their goals.

One potential consequence of building a business or creating a product is failure. Entrepreneurs often fail along the way. The key is to look at what can be learned from each failure; this is how they determine their next steps toward their goal.

Making changes along the way, based on what is learned, requires creativity. While creativity is helpful to entrepreneurs in other ways, including their initial business idea, entrepreneurs are also creative problem solvers. Where someone else may give up on a difficult or complicated task, an entrepreneur will look at the problem from every angle to find various solutions. It requires extra motivation, persistence, and grit to become a successful entrepreneur.

Knowing when help is needed and whom to ask for help are other important skills. Entrepreneurs need to know when they have pushed through a problem or may need an outside perspective. They also know where their expertise lies — and where it does not. Successful entrepreneurs build large networks so they have numerous people they can call on for insight or expertise in areas where they are not experts. 

The perfect time to work on developing these qualities is when you are a student at a US university, regardless of what you hope to do after graduation. These traits will help you in any organization, in any position. Employers appreciate employees who think like entrepreneurs because they constantly look for ways to improve processes and take action to move business forward.

How to Become an Entrepreneur: University Programs That Set You Up for Success

Many Shorelight universities have outstanding degree programs specifically designed with entrepreneurs in mind. Consider:

University of Utah

Ranked in the top 10 for undergraduate programs and #12 for graduate entrepreneurship programs by U.S. News & World Report for 2023, the University of Utah is home to the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute. The institute is an innovation hub where all students, including international students, can launch start-ups and fabricate new products. There is even space for residential living at Lassonde Studios. International students, like all students, can apply to live here and get additional access to programs and innovation spaces.

There are plenty of opportunities to connect with other entrepreneurs through the Entrepreneur Club and more focused groups like Food Entrepreneur (for those looking to break into the food industry) and Arts Entrepreneur (to help artists tap into their entrepreneurial side).

For undergraduate and graduate engineering students studying at the University of Utah, the school offers the chance to earn an Engineering Entrepreneurship Certificate. Through this program, you gain an understanding of how engineering solutions fit into a business environment, as well as the skills needed to start your own company. 

University of Illinois Chicago

UIC has several programs for future entrepreneurs, starting with the UIC Entrepreneurial Support Program. Whether you have a brand-new idea or an established business you want to scale, the program offers one-on-one consulting with experienced business professionals. These experts can help you with tasks like establishing the viability of a business idea, registering patents, and applying for funding. 

The school’s Office of Technology Management (OTM) is another resource for students, offering an educational series, start-ups 101, as well as handbooks for start-ups and inventors. 

If you have an invention or idea, you can submit it for review by the OTM staff. The staff can then weigh whether it is viable (i.e., does it have a chance to succeed in the marketplace?).

Louisiana State University

At LSU, undergraduate students can pursue a dual degree in entrepreneurship and any other major from any college on campus. But no matter what you choose to study at LSU, you will have access to the Student Incubator at LSU Innovation Park and Louisiana Business & Technology Center (LBTC).

The LSU Student Incubator involves an informal application and meeting with incubator staff. If accepted, the first step is to create a business plan. Throughout, you get one-on-one consulting to make sure you set out on the right path and stay on it.

In addition to the personalized attention that helps you get your business started, you have 24/7 access to the co-working space, plus marketing, financial, and general business consulting and counseling. Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of the space is the network of business professionals and mentors that you can build here.

University of Dayton

The University of Dayton has a robust entrepreneurship program ranked in the top 50 entrepreneurship programs in the nation and sixth-largest student-run businesses in the country, Flyer Enterprises. More than 200 students work across Flyer Enterprises’ 12 divisions, which include coffee and smoothies, storage space, and more. Students can work their way from sales associates to CEO during their time at the university. 

The university also hosts the annual Flyer Pitch Competition, awarding more than $150,000 in cash prizes. More than 80 ventures have launched thanks to the competition, which is open to all students and offers three tracks:

  1. Entrepreneurial Services Provider Program (ESP)/tech - for high-growth startup ideas

  2. Main Street - for brick and mortar or online small businesses)

  3. Nonprofit - for qualifying charitable organizations currently serving or planning to expand to the Greater Dayton area

Any student is also welcome to participate in entrepreneurial programs through the university’s L. William Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, such as Epsilon Nu Tau, the nation’s first entrepreneurship fraternity. Additionally, entrepreneurship majors get the chance to start their own microbusinesses — with $5,000 in start-up capital.

Steps You Can Take in College to Become an Entrepreneur 

If you already know you want to start a business or think you may like to try, the best way to know for sure is to get experience. That means pursuing internships that will allow you to explore and discover both what you enjoy doing and what you do not enjoy doing. That may mean exploring opportunities in different industries, or taking roles in different departments within a company to understand the various roles.

Finding internships with start-ups is a great way to learn the ins and outs of a business just getting off the ground. You will also want to look for the type of company that you may want to start. So, if you want to start a coffee shop, working at a coffee shop is a natural place to look for opportunities. 

Inside and outside the classroom, you should build connections with as many people as possible. In particular, identify professors or business owners who have successfully done something that you hope to do one day. They will have invaluable advice as you get started. 

You may also keep in mind fellow students who have strengths that you do not. For example, maybe a classmate is an excellent web developer or someone who knows the ins and outs of marketing. These may be people you will want on your team as you start your business.

Get involved with as many events and campus organizations that support entrepreneurs as you can. These are great opportunities to meet new people who can help you develop your idea and bring it to life. 

Another key to being a successful entrepreneur is not being afraid to ask for help. But in order to ask for help, you need people you can ask for help. The larger your network, the better the chances you will have someone in your network that can help with specific questions or point you in the right direction. For each person you know, that individual can connect you with all the experts they know. 

Even if you do not end up starting your own business, having a robust network and entrepreneurial mindset will give you a huge advantage over others, regardless of your field. The larger your network, the more opportunities will be available to you. And if you are someone who knows how to consistently take action to overcome challenges, or creatively pivot to move forward, more people will want to work with you, too.  

Shorelight can help you find the right entrepreneurship program >