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Diverse Conversations: How Academic Entrepreneurs Supplement Their Income

071114_Shonell_BaconMore and more academics are recognizing the potential to supplement their income from higher education positions with out-of-the-box projects and schemes. To try and get to grips with the so-called academic entrepreneur, I met with Shonell Bacon, instructor of mass communication at McNeese State University.

The goal of this discussion is to help other academics understand the relationship between academic standing and entrepreneurship and how you can marry the two concepts together to generate supplementary income.

Q: So, the first question is about characterization — how would you characterize the academic entrepreneur in today’s world? Who are these people and what is it that they are doing, what makes them unique? What, too, are the benefits of being an academic entrepreneur in terms of how it benefits the individual and one’s career in academia?

A: The academic entrepreneur is someone who knows what their talents are and is able to capitalize on them. That’s my short definition. They are able to take those qualities that make them excel in the academic arena and apply them to additional revenue streams. I’m not sure if they are unique [as] much as they’re always looking for opportunities. They are broad thinkers with narrow goals and lanes to optimize success for those goals.

Q: Considering your own experiences and efforts in academia and the business world, can you share some insights about what it is like to be an academic entrepreneur and what it is that’s particularly advantageous about this approach?

A: For me, the biggest advantage to this approach is how I use knowledge from these two worlds, academic and business, to better myself in both worlds. For example, outside of academia, I am an author and an editor. With both, I constantly use my creativity; my knowledge of grammar, structure and organization; [and] my ability to think outside the box to strengthen my own writing as an author and others’ writing as an editor. When I’m in the classroom, I bring these tools with me. When I’m considering academic research projects, I use my creative, my outside-the- box thinking to explore topics that on the surface might not seem as academic as other topics, but, in the end, they are creative endeavors for me that satisfy their academic requirements.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between entrepreneurship and academia?

A: How, would you say, is the world of higher education working to accommodate entrepreneurialism? I think, more or less, I cover the first question in bits and pieces in other responses. With the second question, I would probably say that higher education’s embrace of technology, especially with moving some classes online, allows for this accommodation in a way because it forces educators to think outside the box and figure out how to deliver the same quality education electronically. That might not seem like a big thing, but I think about my first foray into online teaching, and I clearly remember how teaching online made me consider how I might offer my expertise in other areas digitally. The minute I had to reconsider and think creatively about my teaching, those same reconsiderations came to me in regards to entrepreneurial endeavors. I also think about the “leisure learning” style courses that are offered at most colleges and universities. Oftentimes, these courses enable academics to make a little money in activities outside of their academic work. For example, I’ve taught leisure learning classes in fiction writing, fiction workshop and developing projects for submissions. These courses allowed me to blend my teaching qualities with those qualities often exhibited in my entrepreneurial activities. I also think that schools, such as University of Phoenix, those schools that offer credit for “life learning” and business activities and experience, suggest that entrepreneurialism ― the work we do outside of academia ― is important.

Q: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges for someone in academia looking to also become entrepreneur, looking to take that step to achieving some real financial independence through entrepreneurial ventures?

A: [The] biggest challenge is time. I think about my own experiences, and I can say that most of my time is dedicated to academic endeavors. Work doesn’t end because you leave your campus office. With working 60+ hours a week, sometimes more, academics often don’t have the time for entrepreneurial activities, especially if they want to have some life to live while also taking care of home and family. And that time affects them in another way, too, because you have to make time to think on the idea of entrepreneurship: What skills do I have as an academic? How might those skills be useful outside of academia? What non-academic skills do I have? How can I bridge these skills to develop real financial independence through entrepreneurial ventures? There has to be time taken to consider these questions and others before a person can even get to developing the success he or she wants.

Q: Do you think entrepreneurship is something that more academics will go on to embrace? How do you see the role of the academic entrepreneur emerging? Do you see it expanding, perhaps? If so, why? If not, why not?

A: I definitely think more academics will embrace entrepreneurship. One reason will be out of necessity, say, for example, the need for additional money. But others will come to embrace it because we live in such a fluid, technological world where one person can seamlessly move in and through many identities at any one time. Technology, whether it’s the actual device, or the app, or the software, etc., enables us to branch into other arenas, and more academics can take part of entrepreneurship through technology. Because of technology and the ability for an academic to blend multiple identities simultaneously, the field will definitely not only emerge, but also expand. I definitely see this more so for the future as younger academics come into the landscape, particularly those who are digital natives from birth, living with Internet and the many other advances of technology.

We would like to thank Shonell Bacon for sitting down with us.

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