Fostering an Entrepreneurial Spirit

Five questions with Lynnette Claire, professor and director, School of Business and Leadership

Over the years, Lynnette Claire has observed a fundamental shift in the economy. Claire notes, “In business, we used to say, ‘Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.’ Now, we see people move in and out of entrepreneurship throughout their careers.” Now teaching courses in entrepreneurship, management, and strategic consulting as professor and director of Puget Sound’s School of Business and Leadership, Claire believes that anyone can benefit from learning to think like an entrepreneur.

Q: In your strategic management and consulting seminar, students create a strategic plan for a local small business, nonprofit, or government organization. How does this kind of hands-on learning help reinforce the concepts you’re teaching?
A: Many of my students say this is the hardest class they take in college, and it is similar to what is taught in M.B.A. programs. They also tell me that this is one of the most rewarding experiences they’ve ever had. They collaborate with local organizations to create strategic plans, but it goes way beyond strategy. I’ the world’s worst business model for a consulting firm—all of my employees leave and I don’t make a dime from it—but they’re learning strategy, communication skills, and how to find the information they need, and they’re gaining meaningful work experience to help them be successful after college.

Q: I know you’re a big proponent of experiential learning. Given the challenges of teaching virtual courses due to COVID-19, how have you adapted your classes to still offer that component?
A: It’s been challenging but, honestly, this fall I had the best set of final reports in my senior seminar I’ve ever had. My students still met virtually with their clients and their teams every week. We had one group where only one person was in Tacoma, and his teammates were in Bellingham and Florida, but the upside was that we learned a lot about how to work in virtual teams. That actually turned out to be a good learning opportunity.

Q: Can you tell me about the makerspace at Puget Sound? What does it mean to be a “co-conspirator” in bringing this space to campus?
A: I first became interested in makerspaces because I believe that being a knowledge economy is not going to be enough long term; we have to continue to make things. The makerspace on campus came out of a discussion I had with Michael Johnson in the art department and Siddharth Ramakrishnan in the neuroscience program. We met outside of Diversions and talked about what this kind of a space could look like. Honestly, it felt a little conspiratorial. Then Jane Carlin, our library director, offered to house it in the library. She really took the lead from there and made it a reality. The makerspace has a 3D printer, a laser cutter, soldering irons, sewing machines, and lots of supplies. It’s a space where you can share equipment, you can prototype, and you can explore.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your life outside of the classroom. Have you taken up any new hobbies since the start of the pandemic?
A: I like to travel and so does my family. Not long after the start of the pandemic, we all wrote down the names of places we would like to go on little slips of paper and put them in a jar. Every so often, we pick a destination out of the jar and we “go” there. We try to replicate a meal from that region and we do an activity—that could be a game from that place, a trivia night, or a dance party. The most interesting place we’ve gone is Kiribati. My daughter picked it because it’s a speck in the ocean halfway between Hawai`i and the Philippines. I’d never heard of it, but everyone will have heard of it in 10 years, because it will be the first country to go under water because of climate change. It was really meaningful to do that research and learn about that place.

Q: I know you’re also involved in efforts to make Tacoma more entrepreneurial. What are your hopes for the future of our city?
A: One of the things that’s feeding our future entrepreneurship is that Seattle rents have gone up. That’s bringing a lot of creative people to Tacoma, but we need to find ways to build connections between these entrepreneurs. Spaceworks Tacoma has done a tremendous job of bringing together artists, but we have to do that work in other areas, too. As a city, we have a lot of strengths to build on, like transportation and health care. As a region, there are also industries where we have strengths that no one’s really taken possession of, like private spaceflight, for instance. There’s a lot of opportunity, so why not us? Why not Tacoma?

 

By Jonny Eberle
Photo by Sy Bean
Published Feb. 7, 2021