Entrepreneurship in location – as seen through the eyes of a recent graduate
Pat Gareau UA’17 and Jim Stellar
Pat graduated from Hudson Valley, a local SUNY community college, in 2015. He attended the University at Albany (where we met) and now is a student at Albany Law School and about to begin a joint MBA program with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is also the founder of a consulting company, Gareau LLC and writes regional articles on LinkedIn. When I was Provost, we discussed leveraging the UAlbany’s students and its interest in entrepreneurship through internships with local business leaders. Our interest here is a bit more theoretical – in how people’s entrepreneurship tendencies interact with their geographic location and how that might reflect how our brains work to make implicit decisions as seen in modern neuroeconomics.
To get us started, can you give a brief history of how this interest developed within you starting as a student and led you to take a deeper interest in higher educations (e.g. serving on the Hudson Valley Community College board.
Being from the Albany area and beginning to engage with the community while in college, a growing interest in higher education seemed like a natural progression. I first explored this interest while the editor of the student newspaper at Hudson Valley, and continued to do so as a member of the student governments at UAlbany and for the SUNY system. The importance of the interaction between higher education, businesses, and the regional economy became even more clear to me through working in economic development. I’m thrilled to continue developing this interest and my ability to provide value to our local colleges and exploring new opportunities to leverage the dense concentration of students in the area to create new economic opportunities. It’s exciting to keep moving forward on this track with Albany Law and RPI, staying involved with Hudson Valley as a member of their Foundation’s Board of Directors, and thinking about the intersection of how the brain works, entrepreneurship, and education here.
Thanks. Now have look at this recent blog post from Nautilus, an online science magazine. It builds off a 2014 Nobel Prize in Neuroscience to John O’Keefe for discovering cells in a brain area (the hippocampus) that fire when the organism is at a specific place in its learned environment. He shared that prize with two others for a related discovery of grid cells in neighboring entorhinal cortex. In the Nautilus post, the author argues that this spatial coding attribute of the brain may be important to how our thinking works in general.
It’s fascinating to reflect on the idea that my thinking is rooted in neurological processes uniquely developed from the time and place where I happen to have been born and starting my career.
Clearly you are a “local guy” and that gives you a strength in contacts and in knowing from a felt-knowledge perspective what works. But I want you to introspect a bit here and tell me as a non-neuroscientist, if you think your mind interacts with what the article calls “higher order thinking.” For example, do you translate what you hear in the classroom into something you experienced directly in your work, say on an internship or interaction with a local entrepreneur?
I certainly believe, at least when I’m sharp in class, I make new associations between the material, my past experiences, and potential new opportunities. Before starting law school, I had written and entered contracts for work through my business that were loosely based off what I’d seen others do. In my contract law class this year, its been interesting to reflect on what I had done correct and how I’ll change my contracting process in the future. I think this also happens in reverse where, while working, a concept from class becomes more concrete. I’ve experienced this over the last few months by working as a real estate closing agent for title insurance and lending companies, and seeing how that interacts with the material in my property law class. Of course, often in class I feel like I’m just zoning out but, based on what the article is saying, maybe that’s fine too and I’m subconsciously making some associations that will be identified when I get around to higher-order thinking later. Based on my experience, putting myself in a position where my work and courses interact seems to help me succeed in both domains, regardless of how successful I am in consciously recognizing it.
How does this “grounding” of your theoretical (cognitive) experience in the real-world, influence your thinking about entrepreneurship.
I see entrepreneurship as an endeavor to provide value to others in a novel way. In order to do this, one has to take an idea and put it into action. Having attempted to do that for a couple of years with moderate success, I feel like I’ve developed a basis for how to develop better products or services that others will be interested in as I continue to engage with new ideas and coursework. I think starting is the hardest part and now having some grounding for my thinking accelerates the process of translating a new concept toward a potentially entrepreneurial end.
I have to ask the classic question: Do you think entrepreneurs are born or made? To ask again, is there something about their brain/cognitive structure that is inherent or is there something in here you feel we could train with college and apprentice type programs so that most of us could do entrepreneurial thinking.
I think nearly anyone can learn to think in an entrepreneurial fashion, and that most people do so to varying degrees. I don’t think the threshold is as high as starting a successful and sustainable business or new entity. People are entrepreneurial all of the time within their jobs – whenever they pursue some new initiative or solution. Students that are club leaders and planning new events on college campuses are acting entrepreneurially. It seems like a very worthwhile idea for educational institutions to have students recognize the entrepreneurial thinking that they are already engaging in, and further developing their creative problem-solving skills along with their ability to put ideas into action. That seems entirely attainable to me and good for educational institutions, the workforce, and individuals navigating a pretty challenging economy. It would be great to see more students take the leap and formally create a business entity and take a shot at growing it as well, which for me has been a powerful experience for personal, academic, and professional growth.
I the next blog post we plan to write about conscious (cognitive) vs unconscious (implicit) thinking in entrepreneurship especially to as Pat says above “…recognize the entrepreneurial thinking that they are already engaging in…” as that recognition involves both types of thinking and may be the heart of entrepreneurship.