While most of Christopher Gray's classmates were probably working on research papers and taking exams, he found himself on the set of ABC's Shark Tank, pitching an idea for a business.
Filming an episode of Shark Tank isn't a traditional step in the academic process, but Gray isn't a student at a traditional school.
Gray is a student at the Drexel University Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, the first stand-alone school of entrepreneurship in the US. While there are other schools of entrepreneurship, Close is the first to offer degrees.
A senior at the school, Gray also co-founded Scholly, an app that matches students with scholarships they are qualified for. He credits his time at Close as helpful in his journey as a founder.
While Drexel University has been around since 1891, the Close School started in 2013. The idea for the Close school came from Dean Donna De Carolis, who wrote the proposal for the school while she was working as an associate vice provost for entrepreneurship education at Drexel.
"When people say 'entrepreneurship can't be taught,' we say 'It can, and we're doing it already,'" said Joseph Master, the school's director of communications.
Students can earn a Degree is Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in entrepreneurship and innovation, with a minor in social entrepreneurship, energy innovations, or health innovations.
According to Chuck Sacco, entrepreneur in residence and director of external relations, there are three main components of the program:
- The Close School of Entrepreneurship
- The Baiada Institute, an incubator
- Drexel Ventures, which helps students and faculty commercialize their ventures
One of the reasons the school operates separately from the business school is that business schools tend to teach the process of entrepreneurship. But Master said that Close makes a distinction between the entrepreneur as a person and entrepreneurship as a process.
"We couple teaching the process of entrepreneurship with the individual, the entrepreneur," Sacco said.
The undergraduate curriculum is about 25 classes. Some of the available courses include:
- Ready, set, fail
- Building entrepreneurial teams
- Women and minority entrepreneurship
- Early stage venture capital funding
- Global entrepreneurship
- Cleantech ventures
You can find a full list of available courses and course descriptions here.
The school operates on the quarter system, so classes are taught during terms. Only freshman have summers off, and from then on students go year-round. If you're not in school, Master said, you are working full time.
Most classes don't have prerequisites because they want students of all disciplines. After taking core classes, students take a capstone class called Launch It!
"'Launch It!' was my favorite class," Gray said. "Launch It! serves as almost this mini accelerator where you come in with your idea, receive $2,000 to get things started, and over the course of 10 weeks see whether your idea is viable. It's a great example of experiential learning."
Before completing the capstone, students can take co-ops, which are paid internship. Students usually take three co-ops during their time at Drexel. The Close School encourages students to co-op with a startup, then with an established organization, and then work for themselves.
Students are paid $15,000 a term, roughly the going rate for a co-op salary. You have to apply and get in, but you get access to space at the Baiada Institute and access to resources and mentors. There are also incubator competitions where startups compete for cash prizes. Scholly recently won $33,000.
Another way the school distinguishes itself is in its organizational structure. Both Sacco and Master said that the school is designed to be a horizontal, not a vertical as to eliminate potential silos. They want to make paths to entrepreneurship for students of all disciplines, not just those interested in business.
"We have a great relationship with the business school, but engineers have great ideas too — so do artists, so do writers, so do scientists," Master said.
Master said that many students don't attend Close just to create a software platform, or fulfill the archetype set by people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Some merely want to work for themselves or learn how to better innovate within their fields. All of this, Master said, goes back to the idea of separating entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur.
"We teach entrepreneurship as a habit of mind, an attitude, an approach to not just your career and your academics, but to your life, to your passions," Master said.
According the Sacco, the idea is to supplement existing skill sets and empower the students.
"We're not just teaching how to start a company, we're teaching much more than that," Sacco said.
The Close school has grand ambitions, and the resources to get there, but it is still early in its undertaking.
One of the biggest potential challenges, according to Gray, is the attention that will be brought to the Close school. Now that the program is live, bigger startups, venture capitalists, and other schools could look to them for deal flow and talent.
"They will need to consistently produce successful entrepreneurs to validate their model," Gray said. "In a sense, the Close School is a startup in itself that needs to quickly scale now that it's gone to market, so to speak."
The school currently only offers an undergraduate degree, by Master said it is launching a masters of science degree in 2016.
If you are interested in enrolling at Close, you can apply here.
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.