The Intersection of Entrepreneurship and the Jesuit Tradition

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Modern entrepreneurship has much in common with the Jesuit tradition upon which Georgetown University was founded. On Monday, October 23, as part of the Foundations of Entrepreneurship class at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, Rev. Bryant Oskvig spoke about these connections and elaborated on how St. Ignatius can inspire student entrepreneurs today.

Oskvig, director of Protestant ministry at Georgetown University, serves as the chaplain for the McDonough School of Business. Foundations of Entrepreneurship is taught by Jeff Reid, professor of the practice and founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative (new window).

In many ways, St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order, was an entrepreneur. In contrast to the Dominican and Franciscan traditions of the time, which followed a model of living in a monastery and going out into society to help the needy, St. Ignatius wanted to live among the poor. He began his work by establishing schools, although his ultimate goal was to care for pilgrims. These schools became so successful that the Pope ordered him to continue opening schools.

Reid and Oskvig discussed the parallels between St. Ignatius’s journey and a modern entrepreneur’s. St. Ignatius was forced to pivot to a venture different than his initial idea because he discovered a new customer base and an unmet need. Wealthy nobles were willing to pay for the establishment of new schools in order to give their children a better education.

When Georgetown was founded in 1789, Oskvig explained, John Carroll wanted to evoke the ideal of openness so central to American democracy, especially when it came to religion. “We care about what’s important to you, and we’re going to support that,” Oskvig said, summarizing Carroll’s reasoning.

The conversation also touched on various Jesuit values and how those can be reflected in entrepreneurship. Both Oskvig and Reid stressed the importance of contemplation in action, and how self-reflection often shows us how our strengths and weaknesses can address a community need.

“One of the most important attributes of being an entrepreneur,” Reid said, “is knowing what your own strengths and weaknesses are.”

Oskvig also addressed the principle of cura personalis — or care of the whole person — and how important a balanced life is.

“If you’re not thinking about how you’re caring for yourself, it’s a problem,” Oskvig said, addressing life as a “constant act of balancing.”