[Viewpoint] Fostering an entrepreneurial spirit

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[Viewpoint] Fostering an entrepreneurial spirit

Pierre Omidyar was born in France in 1967. His family moved to Washington D.C. as his father began a medical residency at Johns Hopkins. He studied computer science at Tufts University in Boston. Upon graduating from college, he went to Silicon Valley to work for tech startups such as the Ink Development Company. His college sweetheart had an eccentric hobby of collecting Pez candy dispensers. He was trying to impress his girlfriend and came up with a brilliant idea.

“How about starting up an online auction site for people, like my girlfriend, who are interested in rare items, not goods that can be purchased at a store?”

He designed a Web site where people can post items they want to buy or sell and the deals are made via auction. As a trial, Pierre posted a broken laser pointer on his Web site on Labor Day, the September 4, 1995. To his surprise, a collector purchased it for $14.83.

The birth of eBay brought innovative changes to worldwide online trade. Pierre soon opened an official auction site. At first, the service was free, but as the service’s popularity exploded, a fee was charged to those who actually made deals. He never intended to make a profit out of the service, but eBay was a great commercial success. Later, former Walt Disney executive Meg Whitman was hired as President and CEO, and the growth of the company accelerated, becoming one of the Internet business leaders.

The job creation owing to eBay was especially impressive, as more than 25 million entrepreneurs opened up stores through this site. About 28,000 people in 40 countries are officially employed by eBay, but it actually created an enormous number of jobs through its cyber network.

According to Statistics Korea, the unemployment rate among youth was 8.3 percent in March 2012, about twice the total unemployment rate. The actual unemployment rate may be far higher if you account for the “hidden unemployed” who are willing to work but have temporarily stopped looking for jobs or are seeking only selected positions.

In fact, the function of job creation by large conglomerates is diminishing in the developed countries. It is especially so in Korea, where the economic structure is mature and the dependency on large corporations is high. In this situation, new jobs have to be found mostly in startups. In fact, new businesses are effective ways to create new employment. In the United States, 25 percent of new jobs in the 1990s were created by startups.

Then, what can we do to encourage youth to start new businesses? The government may provide active assistance for startups, and venture capitalists and angel investors could create a suitable ecosystem for startups. However, there has to be a prerequisite for these measures. Entrepreneurship should be taught in college. It should not be limited to special lectures and seminars. Creating a department for entrepreneurship is a surefire way.

Hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States offer entrepreneurship as a class or a major. Babson College’s entrepreneurship program has been ranked No. 1 for 19 consecutive years. Many schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, University of Arizona, University of Indiana, MIT, University of Southern California and Syracuse offer similar undergraduate programs.

Harvard University offers entrepreneurship at the graduate level, and Stanford is known for abundant startup resources. The lecture room at Babson College provides a corporate environment similar to a real executive room. Students and professors have intense discussions over a business item. Thousands of venture companies have been conceived from this class.

Korea had a late start. Chung-Ang University opened a doctorate program on entrepreneurship in 2008, and Sookmyung Women’s University established a global entrepreneurship undergraduate program the following year. Of course, college is not a guarantee for a job.

However, schools may be able to add an entrepreneurship program for students who wish to train for and get access to real-world business to enhance practical and diverse learning opportunities. An entrepreneurship program is a bona fide academic field if related economics and business classes are offered, startup and franchise systems are taught, entrepreneurship is discussed and virtual startups are practiced.

* The author is the industry news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Sun-gu
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