July 11, 2014 by Jithin Thenasseril
Dean Donna De Carolis of Drexel University’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship has been honored with an endowed professorship of $2 million by alumnus Stanley W. Silverman and his wife, Jackie. De Carolis. Now The Silverman Family Professor of Entrepreneurial Leadership, she is the 68th recipient of an endowed professorship since Drexel’s founding. De Carolis is also the sixth female professors to be named at Drexel. An endowed professorship is a very high recognition for a faculty member to receive.
The professorship allows a faculty position permanently funded by the revenue from an endowment fund specifically set up for that purpose. The professorship is awarded to a faculty member to enable them to develop new research ideas, create opportunities for global collaboration and make innovative advances in their field of study. Endowed professorships are crucial for attracting and retaining the brightest and highest-quality scholars. Building a strong base of talent enriches the academic environment and therefore also attracts the brightest students.
De Carolis was honored with the professorship by the Silverman family for her unique leadership style and ideas with respect to entrepreneurial education, her work as founding dean of the Close School, and devotion to imparting entrepreneurial education to all students.
Silverman, who is vice chairman of the board of trustees at Drexel and the donor of the professorship endowment, had the opportunity to work closely with the dean and observe her leadership style and interactions with students. “Dr. De Carolis is a visionary with respect to entrepreneurial education,” Silverman wrote in an email. “She inspires her students to greatness and encourages them to pursue their dreams, as she pursues her dream of changing entrepreneurial education. She connects with and is very supportive of her students and takes a personal interest in what they want to achieve. She is an extraordinary leader, by creating an environment for her staff where they feel a sense of ownership in what they do, and she empowers them to do their jobs. She asks for advice and respects the views [of] everyone who are on the staff of the Close School.”
De Carolis confessed, “People would say to me, ‘You can’t teach people to be entrepreneurs.’ I used to say that’s true. … I don’t have a magic wand that can make a person an entrepreneur. However, now I say I think we can teach people to be entrepreneurs, and the magic wand is the Close School of Entrepreneurship.”
The Close School of Entrepreneurship is the first freestanding degree-granting school of entrepreneurship in the country and is itself a new venture that began in January 2013. As founding dean, De Carolis’ vision with the Close School was to establish a separate entity from the LeBow College of Business in order to make it accessible to all students, regardless of their major. The courses taught at the Close School focus on experiential learning and are mostly electives. Most courses do not require any or minimal prerequisites. De Carolis believes that the education, values, and approach taught in the Close School are invaluable qualities and skills every student must possess in order to become successful not only in entrepreneurship, but any professional career.
“The philosophy of the Close School is that there is a difference between an entrepreneur, the person and entrepreneurship, the process,” she explained. “Most business schools teach the process of entrepreneurship but the Close School teaches both.” De Carolis continued, “Companies are looking for innovative self-starters — people that will bring something to the company. … They are looking for a breadth of skills beyond finance, biology or marketing. They want somebody that can collaborate, build a team and lead an initiative. These are entrepreneurial skills, and what better experience can a student get than start something in college and learn how to take an idea and bring it to fruition? The experience involves everything from people skills to getting resources to planning and executing a strategy.”
Silverman, a highly successful entrepreneur himself, agreed with De Carolis’ philosophy. “We believe in entrepreneurial education for all students because it helps develop a mindset that is creative, innovative and pushes the boundaries of possibilities,” Silverman wrote. “This is a key to success, whether an individual starts his or her own firm, or works for an established firm. Entrepreneurial education also teaches an individual to take risks, and if it results in a failure, that individual can pick himself or herself up and try again. A great lesson of life.” De Carolis has done remarkable work in the short 18 months since the Close School was established. For example, one of the 40 courses taught at the Close School is an entrepreneurship class titled “Launch It!” that allows student entrepreneurs to launch their own ventures with the help of up to $2,000 in seed funding per idea.
“We provide students with funding to help ‘de-risk’ their business idea, which means to test if their idea is going to work before they start their company,” De Carolis said. “So let’s say you have a product and you think it’s great, how do you know people are going to want it? What are the things you have to do to test your assumptions? If you need to hire a web designer or need market research, a focus group, or need to travel somewhere, the funding is supposed to help you do that. It’s a new wave in entrepreneurship that’s disruptive. We don’t really do business models anymore; we de-risk the idea.”
De Carolis took the Close School and entrepreneurship education to the next level by collaborating with the Steinbright Career Development Center to establish an entrepreneurship co-op, in which students are paid $15,000 by Drexel over the course of one co-op to develop and expand their own companies. “It’s Drexel’s and Close’s way of encouraging entrepreneurship,” De Carolis said. “What better way than saying we’re supporting you? Instead of working for an existing company for a co-op, the Close School supports you with a salary of $15,000 while you work for your own company for six months. It’s a rigorous and competitive co-op that can be overwhelming because you really have to go out and build your own company. It isn’t for the faint of heart.”
De Carolis has also created the Entrepreneurship Living-Learning Community, which will host 20 incoming freshmen of different majors with the goal of providing students with the opportunity to explore and investigate entrepreneurship within the local community. The community offers the opportunity to go on field trips to other parts of the country to visit companies such as Apple, PayPal and eBay. She is currently working extensively with the Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship, located on the third floor of Gerri C. LeBow Hall, to reinvent it and make it an effective incubator for new ventures by providing students with access to collaboration labs, conference rooms, projectors, dedicated office space and everything that comes with it — such as phones, desks and Internet access.
In addition to her extensive work at the Close School, De Carolis is an active member of the Alliance for Women Entrepreneurs, the Academy of Management, and the Strategic Management Society. She serves on the advisory board of several start-up companies and is a member of the Union League of Philadelphia, a league that represents the Philadelphia region’s elite in business, education, religion, as well as the arts and culture. Her research has appeared in various journals, including the Strategic Management Journal, The Journal of Management, Journal of Business, and Venturing and Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice.
De Carolis intends to use the endowment to improve and expand existing programs, such as the living-learning community in the Close School and to continue to encourage entrepreneurs. She also plans to create new programs with a focus on family businesses, social capital, collaboration, and women in entrepreneurship with the goal of encouraging more young women to develop leadership skills and pursue their dreams. A ceremony will be held in the fall of 2014 to officially honor De Carolis with the endowed professorship.