sealPurdue News

June 1997

Purdue professor: Entrepreneurs are today's 'folk heroes'

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- College students, encouraged by entrepreneurial "folk heroes" such as Microsoft's Bill Gates, are crowding into courses to learn how to start a business.

"The university mirrors the economy," says Arnold C. Cooper, the Louis A. Weil Jr. Professor of Management at Purdue University. "Colleges create courses to meet the needs of the market. And right now, there is a growing interest in entrepreneurship and small business development."

Cooper, winner of an international award for pioneering entrepreneurial research, says right-sizing, streamlining and out-sourcing in corporate America are helping to create a significant groundswell of new business start-ups. And that translates into related courses at business schools all over the country. Cooper recently shared his findings at a national conference.

"The job market for 1997 college graduates is excellent, but many are thinking about starting their own business," Cooper says. "Reasons range from wanting to do the kind of work they love and not having to work for someone else, to wanting a faster rate of financial and professional growth than traditional employment in a large firm would allow."

A National Federation of Independent Business survey states that more than 4.5 million new businesses were started in 1995. The figures include part-time and less visible home-based start-ups.

"There are some parts of the business world that are just ripe for new firm development," Cooper says. "In the service sector, both business and personal services are experiencing a boom. Many of them provide service to existing corporations. For instance, computer firms, Internet providers and companies that provide office temporaries are all benefiting from the downsizing of corporate America. Two-career couples also are contributing to home-based business start-ups."

Cooper says the growth of popular publications devoted to small business and new ventures also fuels the popularity of entrepreneurship as a career choice.

"Popular literature on entrepreneurship has blossomed," Cooper says. "Magazines such as Inc., Entrepreneur, In Business and Success have appeared on the newsstands. And popular books, videotapes, television programs and newspaper articles have given a prominence to entrepreneurs that would have been inconceivable a few decades ago. The evolution of entrepreneurs to the role of folk heroes is a remarkable development."

According to Cooper, the subject of entrepreneurship as an academic field of study is relatively young -- just over 20 years old. In 1967, there were fewer than 10 universities with courses in entrepreneurship; now there are several hundred. Entrepreneurship as a major course of study also has grown. Among the first to offer specific majors related to entrepreneurship were Babson College in 1968, the University of Southern California in 1971 followed by Baylor University and Wichita State University. Like many other universities, Purdue has opened an Entrepreneurship Center at Purdue-Calumet, funded, in part, by a grant from the Chicago-based Coleman Foundation. Coleman is one of the nation's largest contributors to entrepreneurship-awareness education.

The focus on entrepreneurial research also is expanding. In 1970, Purdue was host to the first academic conference on entrepreneurship, bringing together 12 researchers to report their findings on technical entrepreneurship. In April 1997, the annual Babson conference drew more than 100 researchers in the field.

The entrepreneurial explosion is particularly visible in the United States. Entrepreneurs aren't viewed as "folk heroes" in many European cultures, according to Cooper. Many western European countries experience low rates of new business start-ups.

"Corporate downsizing has led to an extremely high unemployment rate in Western Europe -- sometimes as high as 10 percent or more," Cooper says. "These countries are concerned about the lack of the kind of business development that leads to job creation and innovation."

According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses employ 53 percent of the private work force in this country. The SBA also says that small-business-dominated industries produced an estimated 75 percent of the 2.5 million new jobs created in 1995, and they will contribute about 60 percent of new jobs between 1994 and 2005.

That's one reason European groups are taking steps to create an awareness of entrepreneurship and the research related to the field. The Swedish Board for Industrial and Technical Development, The Swedish Foundation of Small Business Research and Telia AB, a telecommunications firm, have established The International Award for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Research. The award, given for significant scientific contributions to the world of small business, carries with it a $50,000, prize. Businessman David L. Birch from Cambridge, Mass., was the first winner in 1996. Cooper is the 1997 award recipient.

Source: Arnold C. Cooper, (765) 494-4401; e-mail,
Writer: Kate Walker, (765) 494-2073; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,


Professor invests winnings in students

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Purdue professor who has long been popular with his students now will give them a bit more -- the $50,000 he won from an international award.

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Arnold C. Cooper, professor in the Krannert School of Management, won the 1997 International Award for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Research. He and his wife, Jean, will donate the $50,000 toward scholarships for Krannert students.

The award, presented annually to a person who has made a scientific contribution to the field, is given by the Swedish National Board for Industrial and Technical Development, the Swedish Foundation for Small Business Research and Telia AB, a telecommunications operator in Sweden.

The Scientific Council for the Swedish Foundation for Small Business selected Cooper for his three-plus decades of research and contributions to the field of entrepreneurship and small business.

"I've worked in this field for over 30 years. It's very gratifying to be recognized," Cooper says. "Entrepreneurship has been around since the beginning of civilization, but as an academic field of study, it's relatively young -- about 20 years old. So I'm thrilled to be a part of the explosion of research at Purdue and campuses around the world."

The award ceremony will be Sept. 25 in Stockholm.

Cooper, a Purdue alumnus who joined Purdue's faculty in 1963, has won numerous teaching awards for his classes in strategic management and entrepreneurship.

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