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How to think like an entrepreneur

New faculty in the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship are bringing their backgrounds in public policy and creative teaching methods to help students learn how to think like an entrepreneur, and how to turn opportunity into possibility.

Jiayi Bao and Abhisekh Ghosh Moulick stand together near stairs.
New assistant professors Jiayi Bao (left) and Abhisekh Ghosh Moulick draw on their strengths in business and social entrepreneurship in teaching students. (photo by Donn Young)

Students in the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship learn to think like entrepreneurs, whatever career path they choose.

“We don’t expect all of our students to be entrepreneurs, but we want them to be entrepreneurial in their thinking — to be curious and innovative as they engage with the world,” said Bernard Bell, the program’s executive director.

With a blend of academic research and real-world perspective, the faculty teach students to visualize opportunity and possibility. The newest faculty members, Jiayi Bao and Abhisekh Ghosh Moulick (both are assistant professors of public policy and entrepreneurship) have hit the ground running as team players since they came on board last summer, Bell said.

A spirit of collaboration and synergy

Bao’s research focuses on the human capital aspect of entrepreneurship. She examines ways that business and government can enhance support for workers in various company settings.

Currently, she is studying how innovative perks and creative approaches to vacation and sabbatical programs, as well as the benefits of child care or educational assistance programs — or even restructuring the workplace itself — can lead to more motivated and productive employees.

“The theory behind what I study is not specific to one type of company, and entrepreneurship is the overall context,” she said. “New innovative ventures are of special interest to me in terms of job creation and economic growth as well as global competitiveness.”

Before she came to Carolina, Bao assisted with teaching MBA and Executive MBA students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where she earned a master’s degree in applied economics and managerial science and a doctorate in applied economics.

At Carolina, she teaches a public policy class in research design as well as Economics 125, “Introduction to Entrepreneurship,” a foundational course focusing on the basic principles and mindset needed to create new ventures. Despite its size — last fall, the class had 400 students — and the synchronous online format, the course is very hands-on. Students work in five-person teams to turn the entrepreneurial skills they learn into a new project or venture.

Her co-instructor, Susie Greene, has high praise for working with Bao last semester. “Jiayi wasn’t at all intimidated by having to teach a 400-person class right off the bat. She’s super smart, detail-oriented and confident in the most wonderful way, and we balance each other very well,” said Greene, entrepreneur-in-residence and professor of the practice, who has been involved with the course for several years.

This semester, Bao is teaching a smaller version of the course with only 40 students. She plans to keep the flipped aspect of the larger course in which the students complete assignments beforehand to prepare for the lectures, but she wants to increase her direct interaction with them. Bao plans to coach all eight student teams so she can provide feedback on their ideas, whereas the large class draws on guidance from 20 to 30 coaches from the business world.

She and Greene hope to apply some of the innovative pedagogical methods from the small “petri dish” class to the large class next fall.

Bao enjoys the flexibility in applying her research findings toward developing innovative teaching methods at Carolina. Another thing she enjoys is the collaborative, interdisciplinary atmosphere.

“I come from a pure business school background where I studied economics, my research is in the field of management, and I have an academic home in the department of public policy,” she said. “That signals something about the interdisciplinary nature of the department here where the focus is collaboration and bringing synergy into different fields.”

A focus on social entrepreneurship

After several years working in the private sector in India – initially in finance and business process outsourcing at JPMorgan Chase and then as part of a startup college prep company — Ghosh Moulick welcomed an opportunity to examine his career path from an academic perspective.

“I wanted to understand other entrepreneurial people like me out there and the ventures they create,” he said, “and I thought it was fascinating that you could teach these skills to students.” So he decided to blend his personal and professional interests to focus on using the myriad faces of entrepreneurship to benefit the public good.

After earning an undergraduate degree in management from the University of London International Programme & London School of Economics and a doctorate with an emphasis in public management from Texas A&M University’s political science department, Ghosh Moulick began his academic career at the University of Oklahoma. He came to Carolina four years later.

He is the first Ishna J. Hall Fellow in Entrepreneurship, named in memory of the late development officer, by Suzi and Lowry Caudill. Hall ’00 was deeply devoted to Carolina and worked with the Shuford family and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz (then dean of the College) to raise $18 million to support the Shuford Program. It is the largest gift in the history of the College.

Ghosh Moulick co-teaches Economics 325, “Theories and Practices of Entrepreneurship,” which varies in size from 44 students last fall to nearly 100 this spring. The course focuses on applying the skills that turn ideas into tangible products. Last semester the class provided consulting support for Carolina’s University Career Services (UCS).

“Our student teams had a lot of buy-in for the project, especially since it’s an ecosystem they’re part of. They offered great advice about what UCS should offer, so not only was the work an important pedagogical tool, it also helped a living, breathing organization at UNC,” he said.

His co-instructor for the course, Chris Mumford, a professor of the practice in strategy and entrepreneurship, provides the business-related “ears on the ground,” in Ghosh Moulick’s words, and their teaching partnership often highlights complementary perspectives on an issue.

“Abhi brings years of research with practical startup experience. We make a great team because we have very different life experiences but a similar approach and shared vision,” Mumford said.

Like most classes, the course has been taught online this academic year. Instead of having student teams huddling in a corner of the classroom to develop their projects, they meet through Zoom breakout rooms. One advantage of this structure is that the students can be assigned to different project teams during the semester instead of gravitating toward people they know.

That’s important, Ghosh Moulick said, because teamwork is a fundamental part of teaching entrepreneurship and preparing students for a modern workplace.

His students come first, both in Econ 325 and in the Honors public policy course in social entrepreneurship that he’s also teaching this spring. After growing up in a family of modest means, Ghosh Moulick is mindful of the college debt many of his students incur, so he does whatever he can to help them find meaningful careers.

“One of the joys of this profession I’m so lucky to have is to live vicariously through my students’ different entrepreneurial and career successes,” he said.

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