An Eye for Enterprise

From the Spring 2009 edition of Vanderbilt Business

Germain Böer
Böer has helped many students launch their own businesses.

Böer has helped many students launch their own businesses.

Are entrepreneurs born or made? Professor of Management Germain Böer believes it’s a bit of both. On the one hand, he says, “You have to know how to reach your customers, how to build an operation that works smoothly. These are things that many people who start companies don’t really know. That’s why, for entrepreneurs, we have to have a very strong program in general business. My thesis is that entrepreneurs who get a good MBA degree have a much lower business failure rate than those who don’t.”

On the other hand, he says, “A lot of entrepreneurship is an attitude more than a set of skills you pick up. The non-entrepreneur will look at the problems with starting a business, while the entrepreneur looks at the opportunities.”

Right now, Böer insists, is actually a great time to start a business. “I know a guy who is buying mortgages on the cheap, culling the bad and reselling the rest. That’s the way entrepreneurs think. I don’t so much teach these qualities as observe them in successful entrepreneurs.”

What he does provide, along with the business skills that entrepreneurs need, is abundant opportunities for students at Owen to network with successful entrepreneurs. Along with pairing students with local entrepreneurs for projects—like the one that connected Tom Ryan to the slot-machine maker—Böer regularly invites entrepreneurs to his classroom.

“You bring in people who have been successful in businesses that the students may not have heard of, or who take an unusual approach to the way they look at business and solve problems creatively, and it stretches students’ minds. It helps them see that they can go out and do something, too.”

Three times a year, Böer invites area entrepreneurs from a variety of industries to networking breakfasts at Owen, where they can connect with each other (and with students). “That’s how you get entrepreneurial activity started,” he says. Among the companies that have attended are Video Gaming Technologies, Avenue Bank, CareHere LLC, Edison Automation and Pharm MD, just to name a few.

Böer also helped launch and sustain the Nashville Capital Network, which connects investors to people with promising ideas for startup businesses. Each semester two Owen students serve the organization, meeting with investors and helping entrepreneurs sharpen their business plans. The experience, Böer says, is invaluable: “When they graduate, these students can go to work in private equity firms without much trouble.”

He also helps students launch their own businesses. He can tick off a list of business ventures in which current MBA students are involved—from doggie daycare to insurance products for pro sports figures to tire recycling in Dubai.

Operating a business, Böer says, helps students think about how everything fits together. “They learn a lot about self-reliance and how to solve problems. It builds their confidence.”

In all these ways Böer has worked to build a culture at Owen that literally encourages entrepreneurism. “In our society,” he says, “the only way you can become wealthy is to make lots of people better off than they were before.” (Think of the personal computing industry.) You’re not just making money; you’re making a contribution to society. So I’m always telling people, ‘Go out and get rich.’”

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