Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship Faculty Profile: Donna Kelley

Donna Kelley

Donna Kelley

Donna Kelley is a legend at Babson. Not only has she taught hundreds of students all around the world, but her role at the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) has helped bring Babson to the forefront of entrepreneurship research. Professor Kelley recently shared what makes Babson special and how entrepreneurs can create value in society.

What is your role at Babson? How long have you been at Babson?
I’ve been at Babson since 2000, so onto 17 years. I’m a Professor of Entrepreneurship and hold the Frederic C. Hamilton Chair of Free Enterprise. I’m currently on the global board for GEM (I represent Babson) and I also lead the GEM US team which is based out of Babson.

Why did you come to Babson?
I was studying entrepreneurship in my doctoral program at Rensselaer and attended several Babson research conferences (BCERC). I knew that Babson was the top entrepreneurship school. The practical orientation at Babson was something that really excited me. At Babson, I’m able to do research that leads to knowledge extending beyond the academic community: it has created practical value and has helped people make more informed decisions. I enjoy being around creative people on campus and in the Boston area; it’s exciting to be part of the forefront of entrepreneurship.

What classes do you teach?
I’ve taught a variety of courses, including Managing a Growing Business, New Venture Creation, Corporate Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurship in Asia. My teaching has morphed over the years: I’ve been able to teach similar courses but in different places and with different students. I’ve primarily been teaching students in Asia. I made the decision early on that I did not want to take on too much executive education teaching so that I could have time to teach courses I enjoy and continue with my research. Keeping a balance of teaching/research/service is important.

What area of research do you focus on?
When I first got to Babson, my research was focused primarily on how technology ventures sustain innovation beyond their startup years. Over the years it has changed to corporate entrepreneurship and how companies can better encourage entrepreneurial employees and develop processes/systems to bring innovative ventures to life. More recently my research has been around global entrepreneurship.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
My definition of entrepreneurship is creating new value in a society. Entrepreneurship is about addressing the unmet needs of a certain set of people and bringing them innovations that improve their lives. Entrepreneurship can be in corporations or in a venture – in these situations, it is about bringing in tangible or intangible rewards for people and businesses who think and act creatively, and take risks.

What does the world need from entrepreneurs today?
What the world needs from entrepreneurs today is problem solvers: being able to identify problems, finding unique solutions and creating new value in society. It’s about working with customers and stakeholders to understand and solve problems in unique ways (especially in developing economies).

Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs?
Look for ways to create value first, don’t think about the fact about that you’re just creating a revenue-generating opportunity. If you can truly create value, not only are you changing the world in some way, but the tangible benefits will follow. Experimenting is also important. As an entrepreneur, develop your skillset in multiple ways. Think of entrepreneurship as something you can practice: your skills are applicable across multiple experiments/ventures throughout your life.

What do you think makes Babson unique?
The energy – the mix of faculty/staff/students that we have. We have been able to combine the classroom with out of classroom experiences. The latter has changed dramatically over the years. This has been a result of understanding students and acknowledging that things are always changing. We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to experiment to see what works and what doesn’t.

What do you do for fun?
Mountain bike with my dog. I also teach interval training classes/exercises and ride an off-track Thoroughbred a few times a week with my daughter, who has a Morgan.

Describe yourself in four words.
Adventurous, multicultural, gregarious, sincere

Anything else people should know?
Adopted two daughters from China: 15 and 9 years old. One is an equestrian and the other a gymnast.

Have traveled extensively, especially in Asia, love meeting Babson alums all over the world: China, Korea, Indonesia, Israel, Dubai, Toronto and other places.

I’ve had many careers: worked as a chemist, managed health clubs, taught accounting, grew startups in computer, ergonomics and education fields.

Was once a New England karate champion and did triathlons and bicycle hill climbs.