Q&A WITH Maija Renko

Professor and Coleman Chair of Entrepreneurship,

DePaul University 


During the COVID-19 pandemic, entrepreneurship has been critical for companies both large and small. In this issue of Catalyst Conversations, we chat with Maija Renko, Professor and Coleman Chair of Entrepreneurship at DePaul University about the school’s unique approach to entrepreneurship education—including its new MS in Entrepreneurship Program.


1. Tell us about your career path and your current role at DePaul University. What attracted you to DePaul?

I am originally from Finland, and I moved to the US to do a research exchange as a part of the doctoral degree in international business that I was pursuing in Finland. Now, over seventeen years later, it is pretty clear that my stay in the US became more than a study exchange. My interest in entrepreneurship as a research area really started to develop as soon as I moved to the US, both as a result of being guided by a business professor who had built a career in entrepreneurship, and as a result of observing significant differences in the role that entrepreneurship plays in the United States and in Finland.

After I was done with my doctoral studies, it was clear to me that I wanted to continue on the academic career path of research and teaching, and I applied widely for tenure track jobs at business schools across the country. In 2007, I started as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and I was very excited about the opportunity to live in Chicago. While earning tenure at UIC, I had opportunities to work on research projects that focus on social impact of entrepreneurship, such as research projects on entrepreneurship among people with disabilities, and development of classes on social entrepreneurship.

Since 2019, I now serve as the Coleman Chair of Entrepreneurship at the Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University. Given my interest in pursuing research, teaching and service that bridges social impact and entrepreneurship, DePaul’s entrepreneurship program with its mission of doing well and doing good in business is a great match with my professional and academic interests as well as my personal values. As a researcher and educator, my focus is on how entrepreneurs build financially successful businesses that contribute to positive social change. I shed light on subjects such as crowdfunding strategies, social impact entrepreneurship, inclusive management styles, company values, leadership styles, and early-stage startup success.

Maija Renko, Professor and Coleman Chair of Entrepreneurship, DePaul University


2. Give us an overview of DePaul’s Coleman Entrepreneurship Center and the role it plays within the university. What opportunities does the Center create for DePaul students, faculty and alumni?

Coleman Entrepreneurship Center is the University’s entrepreneurship resource hub for all students, faculty and alumni of DePaul, regardless of their discipline or major. The Center also serves the wider entrepreneurship community in Chicago by hosting events and providing programs that are open to all. Some of the Center’s most impactful student-oriented programs include its entrepreneurship internship program and the annual student competitions, where students can showcase – and win money for – their entrepreneurial spirit. For faculty interested in pursuing entrepreneurship, the Center serves as the hub to connect for advice and external resources. We also have a faculty advisory committee, which keeps the Center closely connected with all of DePaul’s colleges and programs, well beyond its business school roots. Alumni come back to the Center to serve as inspiration for current students in our mentorship program and as classroom speakers. In fact, all of the Center’s programs, including its annual Purpose Pitch competition, are open to all DePaul alumni as well.

“Coleman Entrepreneurship Center is the University’s entrepreneurship resource hub for all students, faculty and alumni of DePaul, regardless of their discipline or major.


3. This fall, DePaul is debuting a new fully online MS in Entrepreneurship Program through its Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. Tell us about the new program and what led the university to create it.

DePaul has a long history in providing exemplary academic programming in entrepreneurship. Our programs have earned rankings recognition from the Princeton Review and Poets&Quants, which indicates the high quality of the instruction and experience we provide. We wanted to build on this foundation, but offer the convenience of taking all classes online. One thing we’ve learned from the pandemic is that students can efficiently learn and network in online environments, and that many actually prefer this style of learning that allows them to fit their studies around their busy schedules. Recognizing this, we have decided to offer our Master of Science (MS) in Entrepreneurship degree fully online to serve graduate students and their desire for flexibility. A fully online program means students can take classes wherever it suits them.


4. What’s unique about the new online MS in Entrepreneurship Program, and how will it engage with the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center?

First, students will be studying as part of a cohort. This will allow them to more efficiently network and create close connections, as well as learn from one another’s experiences.

Second, the program features optional in-person residencies in the heart of Chicago’s downtown business district that will help deepen the connections between students and between students and the local entrepreneurship community. A new entrepreneurship residency class will start the program, and another one will be hosted at the end. For the students who cannot make it to the city, we will, of course, provide the residency experience online.

Third, all of the resources and programming of the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center are available to, and integrated into, the MS in Entrepreneurship program. I am particularly excited about how we will make sure that all of the MS students have an entrepreneur mentor as they study in our program. We know that students come to the MS in Entrepreneurship program wanting to learn not only from our faculty, but also directly from entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses. Our new program pairs students one-on-one with mentor entrepreneurs from the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, and I think this will add a great new hands-on component to the program.


5. How has the pandemic affected entrepreneurship? How has DePaul incorporated learnings from the pandemic into the online MS in Entrepreneurship Program?

Macro level statistics show how the pandemic has really provided a boost for entrepreneurship in the United States. New business registrations during the pandemic have increased significantly compared with registrations pre-pandemic, which goes to show how important entrepreneurship is for the economy during times of crisis.

Besides new startups, entrepreneurship and innovation are a growing trend in corporate America. Pandemic disrupted the business models of many traditional industries and corporations, further intensifying this trend, and making it clear that there is no such thing as “business as usual”. Disruption is everywhere, and entrepreneurial thinking is in high demand.

Our MS in Entrepreneurship program provides entrepreneurship skills and knowledge that graduates can apply in their own ventures, as well as in entrepreneurship and innovation related careers across the board. Young people are increasingly turning to entrepreneurship as a way to build the kinds of companies they want to lead, and corporations are looking for entrepreneurial talent to stay innovative and competitive. Our program is uniquely positioned to serve both of these needs.

To learn more about the MS in Entrepreneurship program at DePaul University, go to: