Entrepreneurship Faculty Profile: Heidi Neck
Heidi Neck, Ph.D., is a Professor of Entrepreneurship and the Jeffry A. Timmons Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies. Her primary area of research is entrepreneurship education. In addition to her numerous involvements with Babson, Dr. Neck is currently the President of the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE). She has published over 40 book chapters, monographs, and articles, and is on the editorial board of the Academy of Management Learning & Education Journal. I caught up with Dr. Neck to learn more about her interests and the unique story of how she came to Babson.
What is your role at Babson? How long have you been at Babson?
I am a Professor of Entrepreneurship and hold the Jeffrey A. Timmons endowed chair in entrepreneurial studies. I’ve been at the college for, what seems to be, a very short 16 years! In addition to my professorship, I am the Faculty Director of Babson’s Symposia for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE) that trains faculty around the world how to teach entrepreneurship. I also serve as the Faculty Director of the Babson Collaborative for Entrepreneurship Education, a global membership organization that brings together educational institutions seeking to build and grow entrepreneurship education ecosystems. The Collaborative acts as a “convener” for a global cohort of like-minded, entrepreneurial universities.
Why did you come to Babson?
In an interesting (but very lucky) way, I had no other choice! In late summer of 2000, I was working toward the completion of my Ph.D. at the University of Colorado – Boulder. I was in the final year of my dissertation work. Normally, one “goes on the market” at this stage and begins interviewing for academic positions. I had lots of first-round interviews and strong interest from schools. Several schools invited me for “job talks” – multi-day visits and interviews that would happen later in October/November. Taking a needed break from my dissertation work, I went mountain biking over Labor Day weekend in Breckenridge, CO. While cycling down a steep single-track, a hit something (it’s really such a blur), flew over my handlebars, hit a tree, and landed on a rock. Ouch! The result? A very fractured humerus (entire upper right arm). I won’t go into details of how I finally got off the mountain, but surgery and months of rehab put me behind schedule on my dissertation. I also had to cancel all my job talks. I was bummed.
While most of the other schools lost interest given my delay, Babson kept calling and recruiting me. I had met most of the faculty in the entrepreneurship division at conferences, but the Provost still wanted to interview me. Fortunately for me, his son was a student at the University of Colorado. The Provost at the time, Mike Fetters, traveled to interview me and the rest is history. I started at Babson in August 2001.
The most important part of the story is that I didn’t think I would go to Babson for my first job out of my Ph.D. program; I thought Babson would be a school I would go to later. Being trained at CU-Boulder, I was expected to go to a large research school. I felt a lot of pressure to go to other schools. Looking back and deep down, I knew I wanted to be at Babson. I consider breaking my arm during the summer of 2000 one of the best things that has ever happened to me!
What classes do you teach?
I teach a required course in the two-year MBA program called Entrepreneurship and Opportunity. For my first seven years here I taught undergraduates and Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME), but my last eight years have been with the MBA program. I’m really hoping to develop an entrepreneurial mindset course in the next year.
What area of research do you focus on?
Today, I primarily study entrepreneurship education – its impact, how we teach it, and what the future holds. I think with entrepreneurship education, among all the other business disciplines, we have to do and practice entrepreneurship it in order to learn. I work to find and create the best and most engaging ways to teach entrepreneurship. I’ve written a book for educators called Teaching Entrepreneurship: A Practiced-Based Approach and just published a textbook for students titled Entrepreneurship: The Practice and Mindset.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
There are two ways to look at entrepreneurship. One is to be an entrepreneur, and the other is to be entrepreneurial. Being an entrepreneur is about starting a new venture. I applaud those who do, and I have done it myself. However, the most important role of humans in the world is to be entrepreneurial–thinking and acting like an entrepreneur in everything we do.
Being entrepreneurial is not just about solving problems, it’s also about finding them. It’s about acting in order to learn rather than learning to act. It’s about observing the world in the broadest way possible to see things that others do not. It’s about having a mentality where you believe everything is solvable and that you truly can make an impact. Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking and acting – a life skill.
What does the world need from entrepreneurs today?
The world needs solutions to some really big problems. We need lots of solutions working together to solve some of our biggest problems, such as healthcare, education, and gender equity. I love the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals because they are strategic goals for the planet. Entrepreneurs should be aware of these goals and make sure their venture addresses them in some way.
Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs?
As we speak, I am inspired by the word art framed on my office wall. One piece says “Just because it’s a bad idea doesn’t mean it won’t be a good time!” Another says “Be positive, what you find in your mind is what you put there. Put good things in there!” The third (and my personal favorite) says “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then, always be Batman!” I couldn’t find one that said Wonder Woman!
What do you think makes Babson unique?
It’s not just one thing. It’s a collision of smart, engaging, scrappy, students and high-touch, innovative faculty who really care, and a very entrepreneurial staff who support every crazy idea. We have an entrepreneurial community and culture that is unmatched. The community and culture are what have kept me here for 16 years!
What do you do for fun?
I love golf, hiking, yoga, and beer. I will go see any musical at any theater – LOVE musicals.
Describe yourself in four words.
Curious, enthusiastic, grounded, hopeful.
Anything else people should know?
People are shocked when they discover my obsession with The Bachelor and The Bachelorette!