Thursday, July 9, 2009

Penn State Extension and Agricultural Entrepreneurship

There has long been debate about whether entrepreneurship can be taught. I often tell folks that being an entrepreneur is like being an artist. Anyone can draw a portrait of a landscape, say, but some people will be better able to convey colors, shadows, perspective, distance, etc. Likewise, anyone can operate a business or undertake new ventures, but some will be more successful because they have a skill set that enables them to manage and lead better than others can.

Just as you might learn elements of art in a basic course, it is wholly possible to learn elements of entrepreneurship. Management skills such as business planning, marketing, financial management, etc. are all taught in universities around the world. Entrepreneurs put these pieces together to take advantage of opportunities to create new ventures or make existing ones better.

Penn State Extension offers training for agricultural entrepreneurs.
  • "Income Opportunities in Agriculture" is a one-day workshop that provides opportunities to learn from other entrepreneurs about their ventures.
  • "Food for Profit," usually offered in one day, provides important management information for those interested in small-scale food business. Participants learn about business management as well as food safety practices, etc.
  • "Annie's Project" is multi-session course targeted to women farmers. It provides training on managing farm risks in a way that best suits the unique learning styles of women.
  • "Exploring Your Small Farm Dream" is a multi-session course targeted at people who have a few acres and who are thinking about a farm venture.
  • "Your Future in Focus" is a multi-session course designed to walk participants through a business planning process. At the end, participants will have learned about the many facets of farm business management and should also have a draft of a written business plan.

In addition to these curriculum-based educational activities, we also offer many workshops and courses on topics including financial management, farm succession planning, marketing, etc. Our goal is to provide training on the management skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur. As with artists, some will combine those skills more successfully than others. However, without these skills, the business owner is at a competitive disadvantage and is likely to fail in their venture.

As Extension State Program Leader for Entrepreneurship and Value-Added Ag, I am really proud of the depth of programming we have to offer. Even with this, we are working hard to improve our programs to meet the needs more effectively. I'll keep you in the loop as we move forward. If you have any questions about our programs, contact me at

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