March 14, 2008

Bill Cockrum"Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity," says Bill Cockrum. "It's a process of taking an idea, putting management and resources around it, building it, taking it to fruition and having a harvest."

Professor Cockrum has delivered this clear and compelling message to nearly 5,700 students in his Entrepreneurial Finance course during three decades. Through his teaching and his work with the Harold and Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurship, Cockrum has helped engender an entrepreneurial culture at UCLA Anderson.

"One concept in entrepreneurship," says Cockrum, "is that if you have all the information about a particular opportunity, that's probably a good indication that the opportunity no longer exists. As a result, entrepreneurs are known for their willingness to act on imperfect information knowing they will be wrong a good percentage of the time -- say a third of the time."

But those odds don't discourage a true entrepreneur. "Entrepreneurs are driven to transform opportunities into reality," he says. "They work seven days a week - 18 hours a day - to fill a niche and capitalize on an opportunity."

"Most successful entrepreneurs start their endeavors between the ages of 30 and 50," he says. "It's not a game of 22 year-olds inventing light bulbs in the garage and getting rich. It's more a game of experience."

And it is a game that can be taught. In his course, Cockrum describes the entrepreneurial process from discovering an opportunity, writing a business plan, finding angel investors or venture capitalists and finally making a public offering. He brings entrepreneurs into the classroom. "This allows students to hear directly from people who are used to making decisions with risk," he says.

Students learn to take a broad view of the industry in which their idea, or niche, exists. "When an entrepreneur is writing a business plan," he says, "They must be able to sell the economic potential of the industry in which the new venture will exist. If they can do that, they will get funded because, like a fish, they will be swimming with the current rather than against it."

Students are also introduced to angels and venture capitalists. "Venture capitalists are financial intermediaries," says Cockrum. "They gather funds and place them in a portfolio of investments. I have a venture capitalist who visits my class who says he looks at a thousand deals a year and will invest in two or three. Most venture capitalists look for home runs rather than singles or doubles."

One clear home run is, which originated when a UCLA Anderson student went to the post office to buy stamps -- only to find a long line. The student didn't have time to wait and quickly decided there must be a way to purchase postage online.

With two other students, this entrepreneur approached the U.S. Postal Service and, after more than a year of development, created a process for purchasing postage online. The Postal Service then gave the students a brief period as sole supplier during which they secured funding, hired an experienced CEO and launched a marketing campaign. soon filled the niche that the students had created and now produces annual revenues of more than $80 million.

Cockrum notes that UCLA Anderson students and faculty have also been active in "social entrepreneurship" by creating and supporting non-profit ventures. One such start-up was a program in Kenya where UCLA professors continue to teach management skills to healthcare administrators. Another program improved medical facilities in South Central Los Angeles and a third provides employment assistance to minority contractors in Southern California.

And Cockrum points out that UCLA Anderson, itself, has been entrepreneurial by significantly decreasing its reliance on state funds over the years. And he notes that the Price Center operates from funds generated by an endowment of over $30 million. "That's very entrepreneurial," he says.

Entrepreneurial, indeed. The Financial Times recently ranked UCLA Anderson as the nation's #1 business school for entrepreneurship. And the Entrepreneur's Association has become the school's largest student association. Further, a third of the school's faculty members are pursuing research, funded by the Price Center, into aspects of entrepreneurship.

Cockrum is excited by continuing opportunities for growth and change at the school. "Entrepreneurship is an experiential phenomenon," he says. "Most successful entrepreneurs take their experience and cast it forward looking for supply and demand curves that promise to split and create new niches." This is essentially what Cockrum does each year as he welcomes new students into his courses.

Please visit the Price Center Website for more news and information on entrepreneurship at UCLA Anderson.

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