The last few weeks have seen lots of back and forth between professional entrepreneur turned educator Vivek Wadhwa and venture capitalist Peter Thiel.
The idea was simple: Pick the best twenty kids he could find under 20 years of age and pay them $100,000 over two years to leave school and start a company instead.
Wadhwa, who now teaches simultaneously at Berkeley, Duke, and Harvard, took issue with Theil's program in a recent post:
The message Thiel is sending to the world with his fellowship, which rewards students for dropping out of school, is wrong. The best path to success is not to drop out of college; it is to complete it.
While both of these men have distinguished careers and have achieved great levels of success in their chosen fields, they are both on the wrong side of this discussion.
Because both Theil and Wadhwa are painting this debate as an either/or matter: you can either finish your education or you can start a company. It's not that simple, and I'm here to tell you how it is possible to both earn your degree and start your company at the same time.
I am both proud and excited to be able to share that my employer (and one of my alma maters) the iSchool at Syracuse University is now offering an new interdisciplinary minor to address this very issue: Information Technology, Design and Startups (IDS).
There is an immense amount of value in both the experience of higher education and also in the experience of entrepreneurship. As Scott Adams recently noted in a Wall Street Journal article, being able to learn life lessons – including those about entrepreneurship, management, finance, and related topics – while within the supportive confines of a higher learning institution is absolutely crucial:
By the time I graduated, I had mastered the strange art of transforming nothing into something. Every good thing that has happened to me as an adult can be traced back to that training.
As the either/or debate rages on, I would simply like to point out that there are alternative ways of going about this. Syracuse University is a shining example of thinking differently in this space, and I can personally attest to their ability to allow students to grow, explore, engage, and learn as both peers and partners in the educational process.
And doing it differently, after all, is what entrepreneurship is all about.