October 13, 2021

Planting Seeds of Entrepreneurial Thinking—With a Homegrown Twist

By: ELIstaff

One of the preeminent entrepreneurial thinkers in higher education lives and works in an unlikely place: a metro area of 246,000 residents just a couple of hours south of the Canadian border. Bree Langemo, lawyer and educator, exemplifies ELI’s definition of entrepreneurship. That is the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others, whatever the field or location. 

Langemo directs the Entrepreneurship Center at Concordia College’s Offutt School of Business in Moorhead, Minnesota. It’s a small, private liberal arts college just across the river from her hometown of Fargo, North Dakota. The college is also just down the road from her alma mater, the University of Minnesota-Moorhead. 

In between her college graduation and her current position, Langemo crisscrossed the country. She earned a law degree in Ohio and taught at Pike’s Peak Community College in Colorado. At Pike’s Peak, she oversaw a pilot program to implement the Ice House model for all incoming students and became passionate about fostering entrepreneurial mindsets. That introduction to ELI led to the company hiring her as its head of higher education for North America. They later promoted her to the president of ELI. 

It was another passion that brought Langemo back to Fargo-Moorhead: family. When her husband accepted a job there in 2018, she had an opportunity to decide how she wanted to apply her knowledge and skills after leaving ELI. She approached Concordia about teaching business law. They responded by hiring her as a consultant to develop an entrepreneurship curriculum for the college and the community. 

Putting Legal Matters Last

“When you plant seeds of entrepreneurial thinking, it empowers people and builds their self-efficacy,” Langemo said. “They start to think of themselves as entrepreneurs. Then they move into thinking about how to launch their idea and move forward—and ultimately, when you start to solve problems for more people, that’s where business organization formation comes in. Then you get into the legalities of the best way to form your company, of protecting your intellectual property, of commercialization.”

Many entrepreneurship programs start their curriculum with the legal groundwork, but not the Ice House model. To Langemo, that’s part of what makes it so powerful and applicable for a wide range of people.

Langemo guided Concordia’s creation of a four-course Entrepreneurial Mindset Certificate that complements any major. The Ice House curriculum forms the foundation for the first two courses, Entrepreneurial Mindset 1 and 2. Students then study design thinking and entrepreneurial marketing through a storytelling lens. 

“We know not every student wants to start a business,” Langemo said. “But for those who want to launch an idea, the classes can be stacked toward an entrepreneurship minor.”

So far this year, 26 students are pursuing that minor—15 of them first-year students. 

Growing Support on Campus

With just under 2,000 students and 148 faculty members, Concordia is compact enough for good ideas to travel fast. This expedites Langemo’s job of bridging disciplines. “People are stepping up. They want to be trained. They want to understand. They’re looking for a competitive edge in liberal arts degrees,” she said. 

For the 2021-22 academic year, the college launched a new Music and Business Entrepreneurship bachelor’s degree—and several first-year students have already declared it as a major. Langemo also worked with the School of Health Professions on drafting a new vision that includes entrepreneurial thinking. 

The newly established Entrepreneurship Club draws recruits from across campus and, to Langemo’s surprise, from the secondary students in the surrounding communities. “We were having high school seniors show up at our meetings because they found them on social media,” she said. Some ended up enrolling at Concordia specifically because of the entrepreneurship program. And, two of the club’s officers this year are first-year students who applied for leadership positions at the end of their senior year. 

“It’s exciting and affirming that high school graduates are looking for programs like this,” Langemo said. 

Extending to the Local Community and Beyond

Langemo frequently partners with ELI to bring entrepreneurial mindset education to the Fargo-Moorhead area. For example, during the summer of 2021, ELI offered training for local community college faculty, community leaders, city of Moorhead staff, and economic development champions. The previous year, ELI spent a month on opportunity discovery with Concordia’s academic affairs teams.

Concordia is exploring multiple partnerships across the Fargo-Moorhead area. These include a new pathway to its Entrepreneurial Mindset Certificate program through Tri-College University. This is open to students at five local institutions of higher education, the University of Minnesota-Moorhead and Minnesota State Community and Technical College (M|State), Concordia’s two-year college partner. Concordia and M |State are jointly encouraging community college students to enroll in Concordia’s entrepreneurial mindset courses and engage with its Entrepreneurship Club.

Concordia recently completed a virtual symposium around the theme Work in the Job Revolution, which wove entrepreneurship throughout and featured speakers worldwide. Livestream options like these are also part of Langemo’s plan to spread entrepreneurial mindset education beyond the classroom. 

“My job as Director of the Entrepreneurship Center is internal and external,” Langemo explained. “I work with profit, nonprofit, government, and other partners across our community, offering trainings, activities, and events.” She plans to start piloting more new ideas in the winter of 2021. “We’re just starting to make headway into our community effort.”

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