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Randy Blass: Executive Director of Florida State University's Prestigious Jim Moran Institute

Thursday, July 27, 2017  
Posted by: Shelby Solomon
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Many of you are aware that there has been a trend among universities to create standalone entrepreneurship schools or departments. Entrepreneurship centers have come to play key roles in regard to university/community outreach and have attracted significant funding from donors in the recent decades. Perhaps one of the best examples of a successful entrepreneurship center is Florida State University’s Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship; which received a $100 million donation to split with the school of entrepreneurship from Jan Moran and the Moran Foundation two years ago. To gain a deeper insight into what it takes to operate a large and successful entrepreneurship center, I interviewed Dr. Randy Blass, Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute.


According to a 2006 study of entrepreneurship centers published in the Journal of Small Business Management by Finkle, Kuratko, and Goldsby, a key issue felt universally across entrepreneurship centers is a lack of funding. So what is it like to receive a $100 million dollar donation to combat the funding issue and how is the money used?


Randy: It is not like $100 million fell out of the sky, it is a 20 year annualized gift that goes to support both the school and the institute. That said, we are fully funded and we can make payroll—I can make payroll for the next 20 years, I do not have to sell anything. Part of the vision of the founder, Jim Moran, is that the services from the institute should not have a financial barrier. So, businesses should be able to get access to it and not have to pay. At our core, we provide everything that we do pro bono, and that is important. For that to continue it needs to have that kind of funding. Otherwise we are just like everybody else and trying to find a way to generate revenue to do the things that we do.


I went on to ask Randy about how he measures the success of the Institute. Randy explained that it is exceedingly difficult to measure the success of an entrepreneurship center. Moreover, the Jim Moran Institute has taken a stance against getting caught up in chasing rankings. Randy recalled how this decision came to light in a conversation with the primary donor behind the institute.


Randy: We went to our donor and I simply said, “I don’t think we should chase rankings, I think we should focus on being the best at serving our mission, and if the rankings are good rankings, they will find us.” So we do not engage in activities that serve to satisfy the rankings and siphon away time and energy that could be spent on our mission. For example, we do not attempt to ensure that each faculty member owns a business, because it is tangential to our mission of cultivating, training, and inspiring entrepreneurial leaders. Rather, we focus our time and energy on our mission of serving the entrepreneurial community. To our donor’s credit they said, “yes you are right, let’s go be the best!” That has been our focus ever since.


After making the decision to avoid playing to the ears of the critics, Randy said that they now rely on qualitatively assessing the entrepreneurs and the development of their ventures as their ultimate measure of success. Randy described that they are always looking for ways to measure success, but have yet to find any that truly capture each entrepreneurs’ level of development, considering how many variables are at play in each case.


I concluded my interview with Randy by asking him if he had any last bits of advice for aspiring center directors or current center directors.


Randy: Have a crystal clear sense of purpose, because so many things come at center directors. There are so many opportunities to do some new initiative, some business modeling competition, or elevator pitch competition. All of these things that are coming at center directors almost daily and I think at the core of almost any center director’s effort, they should have a clear sense for why they exist and what they are trying to achieve, because you have to say no to some of those things. There are not enough resources, not enough bandwidth, not enough time, to do them all, and that clear sense of purpose of why we exist serves me everyday and keeps me from going down these various rabbit trails.

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