In 1970, as SMU marked 50 years of business education, a gift from prominent Dallas businessman W.W. Caruth Jr. helped the School of Business Administration establish a first-of-its-kind institute to “encourage the venturesome spirit of free enterprise.” Since then, the Caruth Institute for Owner- Managed Business, now known as the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship, has been a catalyst for training entrepreneurs, encouraging startups regionally and nationally and enhancing the impact of SMU Cox.
Honing the Program to Foster Entrepreneurs
Jerry White joined the Caruth Institute under the tutelage of founding director John Welsh. White took the reins in 1989. By the time he retired in 2018, he had taught more than 25,000 entrepreneurs and co-authored two books: “The Entrepreneur’s Master Planning Guide: How to Launch a Successful Business” and “Administering the Closely Held Company.” “The mission of the Caruth Institute is to encourage a spirit of entrepreneurship and improve the student’s probability of winning if they give it a try,” White explains.
The Academic Mission
The Caruth Institute was founded with a dual mission: academic and community service. The Institute teaches over 20 courses in the undergraduate and graduate programs, focusing on the entrepreneurial process: ideation, business plan, raising capital and growth. Undergraduate students earn a concentration in entrepreneurship and graduate students earn a concentration in strategy and entrepreneurship. The Institute also advises the MBA and undergraduate entrepreneurship clubs and oversees the successful MBA Venture Fund.
The Community Service Mission
The Institute’s signature community effort is the eight-week Starting a Business certificate program, designed to help entrepreneurs build a solid business foundation and avoid costly mistakes.
“This program is the most successful of its type that I know of anywhere,” says adjunct professor Charles Hosch, co-founder of the law firm Hosch & Morris PLLC. Hosch lectures about entrepreneurial legal concerns such as intellectual property and privacy. “Executive Director Simon Mak and his predecessor Jerry White have been honing the program for 30-plus years to make sure it stays precisely focused on exactly what its participants want and need to know. It’s a true Dallas treasure.”
Under White’s leadership, the Caruth Institute broadened its outreach. In 1990, it assumed operation of the Southwest Venture Forum, hosting bimonthly events to connect entrepreneurs with investors.
“Until then, there hadn’t been a program or forum where the general Dallas business community could learn about new things in venture capitalism and raising venture financing,” says Mak, who worked alongside White as associate director until White retired.
Another 1990 milestone: The Institute organized the first of what would become a yearly celebration of success in entrepreneurship. By ranking the area’s fastest-growing privately held companies, the Dallas 100™ awards program has grown into a destination event, celebrating area startups that have arrived.
Going Where No Entrepreneurship Center Has Gone Before
Caruth continues to distinguish itself by providing students with experiential learning opportunities in nontraditional business settings such as prisons and meeting with startups overseas. In January, through the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, the Caruth Institute launched the world’s first certificate in prison entrepreneurship education. In the program modeled after Mak’s course, educators from around the world learn how to integrate prison programs such as the Prison Entrepreneurship Program into classroom curricula.
MBAs travel internationally to learn more about the entrepreneurship ecosystem overseas, and students take advantage of new courses in blockchain and esports entrepreneurship.
The Caruth Institute has contributed to the launch of tens of thousands of startup businesses. Some students — such as Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes, and Chris Cook, co-founder of Sleep Experts — have gone on to become international successes. Others — such as Jordan Miller (BBA, MSM), co-founder and chief operations officer of logistics company Titus Industrial, which ranked No. 2 in the Institute’s most recent Dallas 100™ ranking — have made a name for themselves locally.
“We have had a laserlike focus on preparing our students with the latest findings, practices and skills to improve their chances of winning at business,” says White. Mak predicts that, “The next 50 years will witness the rise of unimaginable new startup business models — and the Caruth Institute will remain at the forefront of encouraging the next generation of student entrepreneurs to give it a try.”