What is “A Moment With”? The Women’s Business Development Center is pleased to continue with our series, “A Moment With”, where we periodically highlight some of our greatest supporters and partners, sharing their career experiences and advice. This month, we are highlighting Maija Renko, professor and the Coleman Chair of Entrepreneurship at the Driehaus College of Business at DePaul University.
Meet Professor and Coleman Chair of Entrepreneurship, Maija Renko: Maija is a professor and the Coleman Chair of Entrepreneurship at the Driehaus College of Business, where she teaches entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship courses. Maija also serves as director of the Master of Science in Entrepreneurship Program. She joined DePaul in 2019 from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was the recipient of multiple research and teaching awards, including Favorite MBA Professor (voted by students).
Maija’s research focuses on the early stages of business development, factors contributing to successful business start-ups, and the role of entrepreneurship in bringing about social change. She has been published in numerous management and entrepreneurship journals and has received many Best Paper Awards as well.
We asked: Tell us about a piece of advice you received from a mentor that has helped you succeed.
Professor and Coleman Chair of Entrepreneurship Renko shared: In my early years as a Ph.D. student in my home country of Finland I was advised by professors Sten-Olof Hansen and Malin Brannback to stay in close contact with business practitioners. Specifically, the advice was to communicate directly with those who were dealing with the kinds of issues I wanted to study. At the time, I may not have realized the true value of this advice, but I definitely do now, decades later. Often researchers and professors – myself included – get carried away with the theories and abstract conceptualizations of what we study. I love abstraction and theorizing, but I am working hard every day in my research to make sure that I do not lose the connection to those whose businesses and lives I am studying. While my research is important to me, I am realizing more and more that it is the direct assistance I can provide to entrepreneurs and students of entrepreneurship that makes a difference.
A Turning Point
We asked: What advice would you share with someone looking to change their career?
Professor and Coleman Chair of Entrepreneurship Renko shared: Don’t burn bridges! Instead, try to think of what elements and connections from your prior career can be assets in your new career. In fact, we know that the best new ideas often emerge at the intersection of previously unrelated fields. So, in addition to getting excited about learning the practices and skills needed in your new industry, think about how all the knowledge you have accumulated in your career thus far can be of service to the new field you are entering. This can help you position yourself as a very attractive job candidate – or entrepreneur – in that new field. In my work I see a lot of students who come to graduate school wanting to change careers, and this is the message I always try to get through to them: Do not discount what you have achieved thus far! Think about building on it, even when changing to another industry and career.
We asked: What is your favorite quote?
Professor and Coleman Chair of Entrepreneurship Renko shared: I really like this one from Shiza Shahid from the Malala Fund: “You must never doubt your ability to achieve anything, overcome anything, and inspire everything, because the truth is, there are no superheroes. There is just us, and too often we are the ones that we keep waiting for.”
It speaks to one of my personal challenges, which is remembering every day that I should not look to others for positive social change, but do whatever it is in my own power to be an agent for change. I have always been more of a thinker who likes to analyze and discuss issues, and taking bold action does not come naturally to me. This quote reminds me that taking even small steps to support the change I want to see is worthwhile. I try to share the same mindset with the entrepreneurship students I teach – focusing too much on your grand, superhero goal can be paralyzing. Instead, focus on what you can do today, tomorrow, and next week, and make sure that those small actions align with your values and the direction you want to see your company develop.
Thank you, Maija Renko, for participating in “A Moment With”; we are proud to call you a loyal friend of the WBDC.