The Evolution of a Pioneering Entrepreneurial Mindset Program
Location: Overland Park, Kansas
Number of degree-seeking students: 16,000
Number of continuing education students: 12,000
Years offering entrepreneurial mindset courses: 15
The metro Kansas City area straddles two states, Missouri and Kansas. It is home to a wide range of industries, neighborhoods, and populations. Johnson County Community College, located on the Kansas side in the state’s wealthiest county, attracts a diverse cross-section of students thanks to a region-wide initiative designed to ensure that residents of either state have favorably priced secondary education options.
To make its courses as accessible as possible, JCCC has set up satellite locations around the county and transitioned many classes online. “We have made a point of going where students are, as opposed to making them come to us,” explained adjunct faculty member Joe Magnant, who has taught at the college for more than 35 years.
JCCC was in the vanguard when it established its entrepreneurship program in 1992. When it added the Ice House model around 15 years ago, Magnant was among the first faculty to incorporate the entrepreneurial mindset into his curriculum. He has continued through changes in leadership, technology, and student body characteristics.
THE PROGRESSION OF JCCC’S ENTREPRENEURSHIP EDUCATION:
Over the past three decades of entrepreneurship education, JCCC has collaborated closely with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City, Missouri-based institution that fundamentally changes people’s lives by addressing the root causes of their challenges. The Kauffman Foundation was instrumental in the initial launch of JCCC’s entrepreneurship program. In addition, its staff introduced JCCC administrators to ELI’s Ice House model.
Former JCCC Professor and Chair of Entrepreneurship Donna Duffey recognized the potential benefits of incorporating the Ice House model across disciplines. She convinced the college to send a group of educators to become certified facilitators through the Kauffman Foundation. Magnant was part of that group.
He vividly recalls meeting Clifton Taulbert and Gary Schoeniger, the authors of “Who Owns the Ice House: Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur,” and staff from the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative. He recognized that the eight life lessons— such as personal choice, community, persistence, and knowledge —were critical for success in business and individual growth.
“There’s nothing new or revolutionary in the Ice House model, but it groups the key elements of a successful future in a way people can understand. I often phrase it as ‘things your mama taught you, but you might have forgotten,’” Magnant said.
JCCC, the Kauffman Foundation, and ELI worked closely for many years. They collaborated to develop course materials and ensured ELI’s curriculum met colleges’ rigorous criteria for student outcomes. At its peak, JCCC offered four sections of its introductory Entrepreneurial Mindset course per year. Additionally, they developed assignments, reflections, and activities that faculty still use widely today.
Over the past decade, many Kansas City-area colleges and universities have added courses, certificates, and degrees in entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, JCCC has continued to refine its approach. They have reduced the number of program-specific entrepreneurship certifications (down from 25 in 2012). Instead, they focus on instilling an entrepreneurial mindset that encourages students in the self-directed pursuit of opportunity. It is regardless of what it looks like.
The college has found that students aren’t always looking to start their own new businesses. For example, some have a goal of solo self-employment. Others may be leading an existing family business, looking to purchase a franchise, or pursuing a direct sales opportunity. Their majors can range from culinary to horticulture to fashion design to HVAC.
JCCC’s entrepreneurship certificate path includes four courses that cover the fundamentals these individuals will need to be successful: Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurial Mindset, Operational Analysis, and Business Planning.
Magnant doesn’t expect many young people to have a career trajectory like his, with more than 30 years with the same company (in his case, with Hallmark as a software engineer). “People are learning to fend for themselves rather than putting their lives into the hands of companies,” he said.
“But only a fool jumps in blindly to a new venture,” he added on a cautionary note. “People need to prepare themselves to their best advantage.”
PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE FUTURE:
Knowing that he plays a key role in this preparation inspires Magnant. He recognizes students’ increased commitment since the start of the pandemic. “These are people who have taken responsibility for doing what needs to be done,” he said. Both sections of his Entrepreneurial Mindset course are offered asynchronously online to around 24 participants per semester.
The entrepreneurial mindset continues to spread at JCCC in other ways as well. It might pop up in an Economics lecture or a conversation with an advisor at the Kansas Small Business Development Center, which has an office on the JCCC campus.
As he goes into a new year of teaching the Entrepreneurial Mindset course, Magnant reflected that “in soft skills, you have a lot of valid opinions, but these can shift with new perspectives.” He intends to deliver those perspectives in a setting where “there’s no right or wrong, only better choices.”