Jack McGourty Ph.D. is Director of Community and Global Entrepreneurship at the Columbia Business School and a faculty member teaching graduate courses in entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology management. Over the past 14 years, Jack has been an active member of the University’s entrepreneurial community, establishing an undergraduate minor in entrepreneurship, teaching core courses in entrepreneurship, and inaugurating the Columbia Venture Competition and Res,Inc., an innovative residential program for student entrepreneurs. He launched the federally funded Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Center, offering technical assistance to local entrepreneurs and small business owners. Jack is the driving force behind In-V-Ent-Ed™ and Venture for All™, new programs designed to educate aspiring entrepreneurs in emerging markets and forge partnerships with global corporations, governments, NGOs and academic institutions to support regional innovation and economic development.

Dr Jack McGourty

What non-academic skills do you believe are important for young entrepreneurs in today’s economy?
There are a core set of professional skills that are important for anyone interested in new venture creation or business development in an existing firm’s context. Entrepreneurially oriented youth must learn to focus their attention, being able to identify opportunities, mindfully attending to what people say and do. Secondly, venture creation is a process. In order to manage facilitate the process, entrepreneurs must have strong project management skills and know how to effectively use the tools and resources available to manage complex projects. Finally, aspiring entrepreneurs need to effectively communicate in all available modalities. Since people attend and learn differently, it is important to be able to articulate your ideas verbally, visually, and graphically. 

How important do you believe it is for young entrepreneurs to have a tertiary academic qualification such as a degree?
Young entrepreneurs must understand the concept of lifelong learning. In order to identify opportunities and then create an appropriate solution takes both a deep understanding of relevant knowledge domains as well as an understanding of the broader context, including social, political, regulatory, cultural, issues. Higher education exposes students to the difference between depth and breadth, and allows them to apply theories into practice in a risk free environment. They must take this learning experience and apply it throughout their career.

Do you believe small businesses have a greater or lesser chance of success than five years ago?
Many of the challenges that small business face are the same today as five years ago. Success depends on a number of factors including resource availability, competitive advantage, the right team, effective leadership and financial management. I think that the emergence of technology and globalization provides more opportunities for success than in the past. Today’s entrepreneurs and small business owners have the capability to expand their market reach and customer base in ways not possible even five years ago. 

How do you see business schools changing during the next five to ten years?
All professional schools will continue to increasingly embrace the need to teach students to apply theory to practice. I think you will see more opportunities to apply skills directly in classrooms and in real world settings. Hopefully, business schools will move more towards authentic project driven learning and away from case-based study. 

What do you have to say about Lord Alan Sugar’s recent comment regarding university education “…not required to be successful in business”?
I would disagree only in the fact that young people need opportunities to learn and practice new knowledge and skills. In an apprenticeship society, this was done on the job, with close mentorship. With the scale of employment needs and the complexity of today’s business challenges, aspiring business owners and managers need time to build foundational knowledge in specific domains, especially in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematic areas. Additionally, they need to develop and hone critical professional skills such as communication, collaboration, self-organization, project management, and leadership. Universities provide these critical learning environments.

Many working within the employment sector say today’s graduates don’t have the ‘soft skills’ necessary to achieve in the real world – what’s your opinion on their view?
In general, most post-secondary education institutions have been integrating professional skills into their curriculum over the past two decades. However, these skills need to be developed over one’s lifetime. So employers need to recognize that fact and provide opportunities for continuing education through training programs and performance management systems.

In a diminishing economy, do you believe postgraduate business degrees are still as important as they once were?
Yes, there will always be a need in certain contexts for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and executives to have deep knowledge within relevant domains in order to identify opportunities and find disruptive solutions. 

How do you see new types of business degrees such as the ‘Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)’ changing?
Doctoral programs will continue to move toward integrating application with theory development. Many of the core knowledge areas of business administration will continue to evolve in relation to our understanding of emerging technologies, globalization, and neuroscience. As our understanding on how each of these areas impacts society and human behaviour, this knowledge can be applied to new business theory and development.