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A New Model for Entrepreneurship Education

An innovative program for sharpening the business skills of entrepreneurs by placing them with business mentors and professors for an extended period of apprenticeship and instruction will be funded by a $550,000 gift from the Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation to the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business.

Beginning in the fall of 2013, the Ratcliffe Fellows in Entrepreneurship Program will admit highly qualified juniors and seniors through a rigorous and distinctive admissions process. The Fellows will then complete a two-year program combining traditional course work with direct exposure to successful small businesses and specialized instruction. “Gazelles”—rapidly growing new ventures located throughout Maryland—will host the apprenticeships. Participants will be expected to launch a new for-profit business prior to completing the program.

“With the Ratcliffe Fellows, we are aiming to evolve the model of teaching and learning that takes place in an entrepreneurial setting inside any business school,” said Merrick Dean Darlene Smith. “Our knowledge base for entrepreneurs is solid, but we have more to do to ensure that our entrepreneurs are true experts by the time they graduate, and that they are ready to face the challenges that come with opening and growing a start-up firm or young company. The Ratcliffe Fellows won’t reinvent the wheel, but it will give these future business leaders better wheels so they can go faster, and with more confidence. It will be a lot of hard work for the participating students, but we’re sure it will be worth it.”

A critical component of the Ratcliffe Fellows Program is the recruitment of “gazelle” firms to serve as sponsor sites for participants. Merrick faculty will handpick founders of these rapidly moving, successful companies to serve as mentors to the Ratcliffe Fellows. Designation of an entrepreneurial firm and its founder as a Ratcliffe Gazelle is expected to be a significant quality mark for the firm.

The Ratcliffe Fellows Program will be the most academically rigorous undergraduate program offered by the Merrick School of Business, and a model for business schools seeking to expose their entrepreneurial students to more real-world business experiences.

“It will be a Merrick calling card in the world of 21st century small business innovation and entrepreneurial success,” Smith said. “Our expectations for the program are high—and that’s a good match for the expectations of our brilliant entrepreneurial students.”

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