In 2017, an intriguing article was published in the journal Science about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. A team worked with 1,500 microenterprise owners across the manufacturing, commerce, and service industries in Lomé, Togo in West Africa. The goal was to explore different approaches to entrepreneurship training. They tried two different approaches with randomly selected groups – a focus on teaching knowledge about business practices, like accounting and marketing, and a second approach that focused on having business owners develop their “personal initiative” – a mindset relating to being proactive, innovative, and resilient.
The research findings caught the attention of Alex Glosenberg, associate professor of management at Loyola Marymount University. By then, he was completing his Ph.D., focusing on the psychology of entrepreneurs. Glosenberg previously served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa and had ample experience working with disadvantaged populations from different cultural backgrounds. In particular, he was intrigued by the non-traditional approach the Science research team had taken to teach the microenterprises – a strategy focused on mindset rather than traditional business knowledge.
“It was the first time I had read something like this, and it really resonated with me,” he said.
So, when Glosenberg was invited to join a colleague who invested in this training to learn how to administer it himself, he happily accepted and traveled to Zimbabwe. “This training transformed my life; it really encompassed everything I know to be at the heart of entrepreneurial and professional success,” he said. “It was the first time I had experienced such a powerful and inspiring approach to facilitating the empowerment of others.”
Glosenberg was referring to the approach, but also the practice, of developing an entrepreneurial mindset. He is adamant about one thing: “The best way to help entrepreneurs is not imparting wisdom – it’s helping them to realize what they already have and to believe in their abilities to change the world by being resilient, innovative, and proactive.”
The entrepreneurial mindset training worked. Among those who received the “personal initiative” entrepreneurial mindset approach, there was an average increase in profits of 30% – much better than the effects of the traditional approach. Beyond a focus on proactivity, innovation, and resilience, the entrepreneurial mindset curriculum helped entrepreneurs practice implementing that mindset in the entrepreneurial process of identifying and exploiting new opportunities, goal setting, planning, getting feedback, and overcoming obstacles.
Since then, Glosenberg has taken this innovative training approach to communities around the world – from North Korean refugees in South Korea to entrepreneurs from marginalized populations in Nigeria and South Africa. More recently, Glosenberg helped integrate innovative approaches closer to home through the Ascend LA program, a collaborative initiative that helps diverse small businesses throughout Los Angeles County gain access to management education, capital, and contracting opportunities to stimulate business growth and job creation. Glosenberg co-leads LMU’s portion of the program alongside David Choi, Conrad N. Hilton Chair of Entrepreneurship, and is one of several LMU business faculty who teach the management education component of the program. Since 2021, the program has generated over $60 million in contracts for women and BIPOC-owned businesses.
Choi can attest to the transformative power of the entrepreneurial mindset. Growing up in South Korea, he had no genuine interest in entrepreneurship. After living four and half years in Germany, he moved to the U.S. at age 14 with the intention of going to school and joining the corporate world. He stumbled into entrepreneurship after college when he created a non-profit organization for the Korean-American community that’s still going strong after 30 years. Choi also helped found the Leadership Initiative at Harvard Business School, which undertakes cutting-edge research and course development projects about leadership and leadership development. He ended up working at various for-profit food, software, and biotech companies in different capacities – as co-founder, board member, or advisor, and as interim president of two publicly-traded firms.
“Across all the successful – and not-so-successful – ventures I’ve started, I’ve learned that I’ll never know everything I need to succeed,” said Choi. “Instead, my success has to do with my mindset – the attitudes and values I have about being different from others, overcoming difficulties, and acting before others. This insight is one of the most important things I share with the students I teach and the entrepreneurs I coach.”
It’s precisely this kind of mindset that sets the entrepreneurship program at LMU apart. Choi said there is no exact formula that makes a great entrepreneur; they come from all backgrounds with diverse perspectives: inventors, salespeople, social entrepreneurs, team leaders, etc. While some may have natural abilities like a quick wit, a great speaking ability, and an indomitable spirit – Choi knows from firsthand experience that everyone can develop a strong entrepreneurial mindset.
This has been true for LMU students and alumni, many of whom successfully founded their own start-ups during their time at the university. Alumni such as Ron Valenta ’80, who endowed the Kiesner Center, is a world leader in storage containers; Tim Dean ’82 runs Wine Country Gift Baskets, a multi-hundred-million-dollar operation. Brandin Cohen ’10 and Hayden Fulstone ’10 started Liquid IV during their time at LMU, and Jason Wilk ’07, co-founder and CEO of Dave, is a great example of someone who built multiple successful companies at an early age. Jordan Justus ’17 and Harris Lummis ’17 put their heads together in an experimental interdisciplinary class and came up with a video camera technology idea that became Automotus, an innovative start-up that manages the rapid rise in commercial vehicle traffic and CO2 emission in our communities. Garett Awad ’07 is CMO of Nobell Foods, the first company of its kind to produce plant-based cheese, while Cynthia Salim ’09 founded Citizen’s Mark, a sustainable clothing company, and used her entrepreneurial experience to launch a career in venture capital.
The social and environmental focus of these entrepreneurs is directly tied to the Fred Kiesner Center for Entrepreneurship, which serves as a hub for the entrepreneurship major, the M.S. in Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Innovation, and the Family Business Entrepreneurship Program. Each year, the center offers numerous experiential and co-curricular activities designed to engage and enhance students’ entrepreneurial competence, helping them address the world’s biggest issues in new and creative ways. One of these initiatives is the Business Incubator, currently led by Jason D’Mello, associate professor of entrepreneurship. The Business Incubator is an innovative program that provides students with the workspace and guidance to prepare their businesses for the real world. D’Mello also heads up the Financial Literacy program for underserved high school students across Los Angeles. The Kiesner Center recently opened the Business Innovation Zone (BIZ), an innovative space on campus that brings together students from many disciplines to work on business ideas and spur collaboration, co-creation, and design thinking.
A more recent offering of the Kiesner Center is the Business, Engineering, Science, and Technology (BEST) Bootcamp, a free certificate program for undergraduate students in the College of Business Administration and the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering. Topics include technology trends, market research, design thinking, and hands-on experience with the latest technologies. Participants learned how to launch a successful business incorporating science and technology, networked with industry professionals, and visited local tech start-ups. This fall, the Kiesner Center introduced an entrepreneurship certificate program – allowing students from across the university to gain key entrepreneurial skills and hone their entrepreneurial mindsets.
As someone whose life has been changed by entrepreneurial mindset training, Glosenberg has made it his purpose to provide the same resources and skills he developed by training other people, who, in turn, may also serve as trainers and advocates themselves for this kind of unique approach. “Education is best done from a strength-based approach, as opposed to a deficit-based approach,” he said. “When you assume that people are empty vessels that need to be filled up with your wisdom, I think you do them a disservice. Instead, when you understand that individuals bring their unique cultural backgrounds, personalities, and experiences, and they are the sources of wisdom as much as you are, then you start on the right note.”
Have questions or need help? Use the form to reach out and we will be in touch with you as quickly as possible.