Majoring in Entrepreneurship
Christian college students learn that God's kingdom might be built on earth as truly through business endeavors as through full-time ministry.
by Whitney Bauck
Many entrepreneurs start their first ventures while still in college—not surprising since the undergrad experience combines youthful energy, exposure to new ideas, and new-found access to the knowledge it takes to address problems.
Located in the suburbs of Chicago, Wheaton College is one Christian institution in which momentum towards entrepreneurial pursuits is steadily emerging among the student body. Numerous factors have combined to contribute to this growing energy. Though courses like New Venture Strategy, which is offered by the Business and Economics department, have been in existence for years, other more recent events have further heightened student awareness of entrepreneurial opportunities.
Wheaton's entrepreneurs have been encouraged by campus events like Shark Tank, the college's startup competition modeled after the reality TV show of the same name. The college was also well represented at last summer's Praxis Academy, a week-long conference held by Praxis Labs seeking to equip undergraduates with exposure to the theological and cultural tools necessary to engage well in entrepreneurial endeavors. A small handful of students even pooled their time and energy to create an off-campus thought lab devoted solely to creative and entrepreneurial collaboration—an office of sorts equipped with whiteboard walls and a 3D printer and simply titled "the Space."
One student who has helped spearhead the movement on Wheaton's campus is senior Grant Hensel. A serial entrepreneur himself, Hensel has been instrumental in casting vision and inspiring student involvement in events like Shark Tank or attendance at Praxis Academy.
Hensel's most recent entrepreneurial involvement invited his fellow students to participate in entrepreneurship even more directly. Hensel is vice president of the recent start-up Project World Impact, a nonprofit company that seeks to link donors to relevant charities, which employed 18 Wheaton students over the summer of 2014.
While Hensel may be one of the more extraordinary examples—not many people can claim they've founded or co-founded five start-ups before the age of 22—he's only one of many students on Wheaton's campus who are looking to entrepreneurship as a way to have a positive impact on the world. Though Wheaton's legacy is more firmly tied to Jim Elliot-style missions and evangelism a la Billy Graham than it is to Mark Zuckerberg-caliber startups, a new generation of Wheaton students is starting to act as though the kingdom might be built on earth as truly through business endeavors as through full-time ministry.
The Wheaton Shark Tank exemplified this urge, as the ventures proposed included everything from The Whole Buffalo (a venture that would re-distribute food wasted by local grocery stores to people in need) to Curio (a fair trade e-commerce site seeking to create reciprocal relationships between vendors and customers).
Wheaton junior Madeline Taylor, who hopes to start a restaurant based on the Paleo Diet, sees entrepreneurship as participatory in God's redemptive work. "Creating something new that can answer just one problem in the world has brought me near the heart of God," she says.
Wheaton is one Christian school among many whose students are being encouraged—whether by student initiatives or institutional structure—to think about entrepreneurship as a way to bring shalom to earth. Whether it's Gordon College's Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership or Westmont's Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Christian colleges from coast to coast and everywhere in between are looking to equip the next generation to pursue meaningful new ventures in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.
The rewards for both the individuals involved and the society they'll impact may be huge. "Entrepreneurship is a crucible that shows you what you're made of, forces you to work harder and longer and smarter than you thought possible, and is an engine of enormous value for society," Hensel says. "I love it."
Whitney Bauck is a photographer and art student whose passion is to help Christians engage the fashion world in an intellectually and spiritually robust manner. She blogs regularly about the intersection of fashion and faith at Unwrinkling.com.
Read about more Wheaton entrepreneurs in "5 Tips from 6 Entrepreneurs Under 30."