Serial entrepreneur Dale Jasinski is Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship & Strategy at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT. He says he does what he does because he loves the ability to inspire young people to want to get involved in the world of entrepreneurship.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: What piqued your interest in entrepreneurship?
JASINSKI: I’m a five-time entrepreneur. When I graduated college I thought I was going to be a certified public accountant. I was for two years and I enjoyed it. I learned a lot about business, business models, industries, and all that stuff, but it made me realize I was not going to be a partner in a CPA firm, that wasn’t going to be my life.
IDH: Tell us about your first entrepreneurial experience.
JASINSKI: While I was working at a CPA firm in California, a colleague of mine and I decided we wanted to do something on our own. This was back in 1983, computers were just becoming hot and we decided we could sell and design computer systems for law firms. It actually turned out really well for us. We had offices in San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
About 10 years into that business, my wife and I had had our third son. I knew I didn’t want to be running a business while my children were young. We sold the company for a nice amount of money. That enabled me to get a PhD in entrepreneurship from the University of Colorado, so we moved from San Diego, CA to Boulder, CO.
IDH: How did you end up in Connecticut?
JASINSKI: I came here to start the program in entrepreneurship at Quinnipiac. Since I’ve been at Quinnipiac, I’ve started four more businesses, two non-profit, two for-profit.
IDH: Let’s talk about your experiences at Quinnipiac. How long have you been teaching there?
JASINSKI: This is my 15th year.
IDH: So you came to Connecticut deliberately to start the entrepreneurship program at Quinnipiac. Tell us about it.
JASINSKI: Yes. I thought it would be fun to go to a college that wanted to start an entrepreneurship program where I could design it the way I thought it should go.
Quinnipiac has have a full-fledged major and minor in entrepreneurship. The classes are all around the field of entrepreneurship innovation.
We cover the bases starting with an introductory course that provides an overview of what entrepreneurship is all about—what students might be expecting as a person or as a company in the startup world.
We offer a creativity class where we help students to think outside the box—to think about business models and business ideas. I use the term “business,” but we run the gamut from nonprofits to social enterprises and for-profits. We do not have any discrimination or favoritism toward any kind of business or organization a student or group of students wants to start.
We also provide a small business marketing and finance class to help students understand the aspects of finance and marketing that are required for smaller companies. For example, they have to figure out a way to use creativity and innovation to help small businesses or organizations solve their problems.
Then we have a class for negotiations because a lot of the entrepreneurial world is all about negotiating, trying to get a win-win situation.
We also offer a digital business class because it’s relatively hard, while you’re in college, to start a brewery or an Italian restaurant. It takes a lot of money and time, but it’s relatively easy to start a new digital business. It doesn’t take very much money and it’s one of those things you can manage and scale while you’re still taking a full class load.
The digital business class helps students get in the game and understand what entrepreneurship is, they don’t really have to stay with that, they could still open up a brewery or an Italian restaurant, but at least they can say: I started one thing. I got to see it through all the way from idea to website. I understand now more about how to make that happen.
And then the capstone experience is to have students create a business model by themselves or as a team. They get nine credit hours for trying to launch it. I think the ones that don’t launch are just as successful as the ones that do because the students have learned where they should’ve zigged instead of zagged.
Here in Connecticut, the startup community is so thriving, there are a lot of jobs entrepreneurship majors can get helping in the startup world. And what I think a lot of parents find surprising is that there are a lot of jobs in the corporate world that are also looking for entrepreneurial-minded people.
IDH: What do you enjoy the most about teaching and working with entrepreneurial students?
JASINSKI: It’s a fountain of youth. There are a lot of paths in life that lead you to become a professor or a teacher. My wife is a middle school science teacher and she was a research scientist before our sons were born, so she comes at science from a practical point of view. She’s been involved with science, she loves science. I do the same thing with entrepreneurship.
I think the kids love relating to the fact that I started my first business two years out of college. I understand what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. It was a different time in a different era, but I was still meeting the same challenges. And the fact that I’m still an entrepreneur starting businesses also makes what I say in a class have a little bit more relevancy to my students.
The fountain of youth concept comes from my students. They’re showing me things like Snapchat, Venmo, and Uber. They’re showing me the things that young people today are doing with their lives, and that is fun for me. I like understanding the businesses of tomorrow. I love contemplating what the future could be when you look at how fast the world is changing.
I’d put a bullet in my head if I was teaching all my classes about second-guessing decisions IBM made in 1979.
I always tell the parents I meet that entrepreneurship is probably the safest major. If you think about it, entrepreneurship is a major that’s going to teach kids to be independent and be able to create opportunities for themselves. The other majors are hoping someone is going to be benevolent enough to provide them with a job and a paycheck, which seems a lot riskier than the other way around. From my perspective, I think it’s a safe choice to actually have your kid get that knowledge. Most of them will go out first and gain more experience in the work world before they venture into something.
Most of our kids, nine out of 10, take a job after college. Roughly one out of 10 start a business.
IDH: Are there any hot topics that appeal to your entrepreneurial students?
JASINSKI: Certainly technology—the web, social media, and app world holds a lot of appeal to many of my students because it’s something they are familiar with. We have social enterprises and we also have traditional for-profit kinds of businesses from sports and food to holistic health to fashion.
With regard to social enterprise, we discuss Kate Emery, who founded reSET. One of the things you see more and more is that the students want to do something where they’re making an impact on people’s lives and the planet. In a lot of classes we talk about the three P’s: people, planet, and profits. A lot of students find that rewarding. They want to do something where they can feel like it’s not just all about being a millionaire by the time they’re 30.
IDH: Can you talk about Quinnipiac’s business plan competition and your involvement with that?
JASINSKI: In the fall we have an intramural competition that’s just for Quinnipiac student. It’s based around our digital business class. We felt this created a level playing field—it doesn’t matter if you have $1 or your family is worth a couple million dollars, anyone can start a digital-based business. And most students are interested in launching a digital startup businesses anyway. The competition culminates in December with a big presentation on campus in front of friends, family, and judges. I think the first prize is $5,000.
IDH: In addition to the intermural competition, Quinnipiac University is involved with other competitions, too, right?
JASINSKI: Yes, we’re involved with state-level competitions in the fall and spring competition. And about a year ago we started participating in the New Venture Challenge, which is run by the Entrepreneurship Foundation. It’s not a competition as such, but it’s a wonderful cooperative thing we do with other schools in the state of Connecticut that all have entrepreneurship courses. It gives students a chance to learn entrepreneurship in a much more hands-on Startup Weekend-like mode.
Quinnipiac University supports us with our competitions. I couldn’t do an interview without mentioning that. President Lahey likes the idea of bringing positive recognition to the University. When our kids do well they represent the school really well.
IDH: In what ways do you feel that the programs and resources Quinnipiac University offers are fostering entrepreneurship?
JASINSKI: That’s a tough one because you can’t force anyone to want to become an entrepreneur. We really believe you’ve got to have the desire and want to do it. You should understand the good, the bad, and the ugly about it. But, at the end of the day, if all you’re doing is taking courses and taking tests, you’re really not going to be an entrepreneur.
We design our courses to be very hands-on and experiential-based. We have no exams. We don’t use classical textbooks either because by the time come out, most textbooks by their very nature, are three years old. We don’t want entrepreneurial students learning about the business models of 2014, we want them to understand the business models of 2017. It’s not like we’re book-free or anything like that, but we also rely a lot on sites like Innovation Destination Hartford.
IDH: We’re happy to be a useful resource!
JASINSKI: In my next class, I’m going to have my students go through the Innovation Destination Hartford website. They’re going to review all 27 of the startups that have been profiled. The way I have them do it is, they’ll tell me what they liked or disliked about each company, what they think the successes are, and whether or not they would want to invest in or work at the company. We’ll also discuss what, if anything else, they would add in terms of new customer segments for the companies or growth potential.
Again, I feel like that’s a much more fun assignment for them than asking them to read a textbook about companies that launched in 2013—with those companies, they now know whether they worked or didn’t. Reviewing startups on your website, we don’t know any of those companies are going to be the next Google or not, so all of my students’ opinions are eligible. There’s no right or wrong.
Our entire entrepreneurship program is geared around the courses being experiential-based and project-based so students have a portfolio when they finish. They can show a potential employer the elevator pitch they did. I recently explained the program this way to parents: Entrepreneurship students are not looking at the shark tank they’re swimming in the shark tank. That’s what you’ve got to do if you want to be an entrepreneur.