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Summer 2003
Professor George Norman
(photo by Laura Ferguson)


Department: Economics
Professor: George Norman,
William and Joyce Cummings Professor of Entrepreneurship and Business

In your class, do you have to divest some hopeful entrepreneurs of a few illusions?
Yes. One thing I try to get across right at the very beginning is that the course load is probably the most work they will do in any course they have at Tufts. That scares off a number. I tell them the class is going to be some of the most fun they will have. And finally, if they think that I’m going to make them into entrepreneurs, they’re wrong. I can help them to see what is and what is not an effective entrepreneurial opportunity. But the idea that anyone can turn out guaranteed entrepreneurs is ridiculous.

Tell me a little bit about the class structure.
I give a series of lectures, usually about ten; that’s about a third of the course. The idea is to set the scene in terms of what entrepreneurship is, how to create an entrepreneurial venture, the type of things that will make for a successful venture. Some of the nitty-gritty. That is all scene-setting and trying to give the students a framework within which they can then operate.

The rest is essentially done by the students. I place them into groups of four or five, and each group is then allocated a case study. The intent is to use the cases to highlight some of the principles that have been developed in my part of the course, and also to give the students some kind of hands-on experience with looking at companies, analyzing data, trying to make sense of them.

What kind of questions do they ask?
The idea of each case is to ask: What is the entrepreneurial opportunity? How has the company exploited it? How is the company protecting and developing its position? How good an opportunity does it appear to be? What are the threats that the company might face? Does it seem to be adopting the correct strategy for growth?

Do the students have to come up with their own ideas as well?
I also have the students developing a business plan for a new company. This is the last and most challenging part of the course: coming up with an idea and developing it. Once they have settled on a concept, they have to develop the business plan. They have to research the opportunity, research the market, research the competition, and finally, present the plan to the class.

Have you had some amusing ones over the years?
One last year was—perhaps, in some sense, it was the least adventurous—but it was in many ways also one of the most interesting. The group decided that they would actually set up a Subway franchise. What they did then was contact Subway to get all the information on what was required to set up a franchise. And they managed to get even further. Subway was tremendously helpful, inviting the students to come along to one of their franchise meetings where Subway was advising potential partners on exactly what they look for in a franchisee. So the students sat in and had a great experience. They even found a market opportunity for Subway that the company thought might actually work. So that one was particularly impressive.

Any characteristics you see in the successful students?
They’re willing to take risks. I have always been impressed by the intelligence of students at Tufts, their drive, their recognition that if they are going to expect to succeed then they have got to put the effort in. What I do is try to set up the basic principles that have the potential for making a successful entrepreneurial venture. But in the end, success or otherwise comes down to the individuals involved and what they put into it. To an extent it’s luck, but there’s no question that the more work you put in, the luckier you’re likely to be. Careful planning is essential, as is an honest recognition of what the risks are. If you get all that right, then there’s the chance that your venture will be successful.