Stephanie Fernhaber remembers a student asking Butler University President Jim Danko, who owned a medical-supply company for many years, about the transition from being an entrepreneur to academia. And she recalls his answer vividly: “I really do believe that in whatever you are doing, even in running this University, I really like to think like an entrepreneur.”
That’s the mindset she tries to instill in her students.
Fernhaber, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Lacy School of Business, thinks we can all be entrepreneurial, our job titles notwithstanding.
“We tend to think of entrepreneurs as high-tech startups or someone who owns their own business,” she said. “But being an entrepreneur means being innovative, actively pursuing new opportunities, and taking managed risk. So it’s really a spectrum. It’s not ‘Are you an entrepreneur?’ It’s ‘How entrepreneurial are you?’”
Take her, for example. Yes, she’s a professor, but she applies an entrepreneurial approach to her work with both undergraduates and MBA students.
“In my research, I need to be entrepreneurial because I have to come up with brand new ideas and theories and ways of testing them,” she said. “But even in our teaching, I think we all strive to be innovative. We want to try new things that will create value for our students. In doing that, there are some calculated risks.”
Fernhaber grew up in an entrepreneurial home—her father ran his own construction company in northern Wisconsin— and her first job after earning her undergraduate degree in Business and Spanish from Ripon College was writing business plans, doing market feasibility studies, and helping startups and business owners get Small Business Administration loans.
She earned her MBA at Marquette University and her doctorate in Entrepreneurship from Indiana University. In 2010, she joined the Butler faculty after four years as an Assistant Professor/Affiliate Status at Iowa State University.
In her teaching and research, she looks at entrepreneurship and innovation in a variety of ways. One course she teaches is Social Entrepreneurship—how entrepreneurship can be applied to social issues. Her current research is focused on bridging international and social entrepreneurship, and considers how grassroots innovations in India move from the local level to the world stage.
In addition to publishing nearly 20 journal articles, Fernhaber has co-authored two books, Teaching the Entrepreneurial Mindset to Engineers and The Routledge Companion to International Entrepreneurship. She’s also been part of the collaboration between several of Butler’s Colleges to write, illustrate, produce, and sell children’s books on subjects related to health. In that project, students and faculty from the participating Colleges bring their different expertise.
And that, Fernhaber point outs, is an example of an entrepreneurial, innovative way to teach.
“What I enjoy most in the classroom,” she said, “is when students get excited and get engaged about a project or a topic and when you can find a way to reach them.”