Award-Winning Babson Professor Keeps Innovating and Inspiring

Heidi Neck speaks in a Babson classroom

It’s two weeks before the start of the spring semester, and it’s a particularly hectic—and exciting—time for Heidi Neck.

The longtime Babson College professor of entrepreneurship is putting the final touches on a new course she has created. And, after more than a decade focused on educating MBA students, executives, and even other educators, Neck is returning to teach undergraduate students once again. “I can’t wait,” she said. “I’m super excited.”

Neck’s new course is Ideate, based in part on her 2020 book, The IDEATE Method: Identifying High-Potential Entrepreneurial Ideas. She describes the class as a mixture of creativity, idea generation, and the entrepreneurial mindset. The output of the course is 100 high-potential entrepreneurial ideas per student. “Because it’s an experimental course, I was able to cap the enrollment at 24, but that means 2,400 total ideas,” she said.

“It’s not about a deep vetting of those ideas,” she added. It’s also not about feasibility analysis, minimum viable product, and design thinking. That’s for Babson’s other courses to explore. “This class is about developing a mindset driven by curiosity to explore the world in different ways. And, from that, using creativity to take what they learned in that exploration to create new ideas, and then building courage to share those ideas and take action under conditions of uncertainty.”

Neck has built a successful and influential career on identifying ideas, taking action, and teaching entrepreneurially. Now, in her 21st year at Babson, she has been recognized as one of the very best entrepreneurship educators.

Special Honor with Special Significance

While finalizing her new course, Neck also was busy preparing to attend the annual conference of the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE).

Neck is a past president of USASBE, the largest independent, professional academic organization in the world dedicated to advancing the discipline of entrepreneurship. The conference this past weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina, though, carried extra significance.

It was there, among her peers, that Neck was presented with USASBE’s Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year award.

Heidi Neck poses for a photo with Thomas Pittz, Julienne Shields, and Wendy Plant
Babson Professor Heidi Neck (second from left) poses with her Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year award alongside USASBE Treasurer Thomas Pittz (left), President/CEO Julienne Shields (second from right), and Awards Commission Chair Wendy Plant (far right).

“This award, particularly from USASBE, is truly special,” Neck said. “I’ve always believed that how we teach is more important than what we teach. This award tells me my peers think so, too, and I’m grateful. And, I’m inspired and energized to keep moving forward and figure out what’s next in entrepreneurship education.”

Neck is just the third Babson professor honored with the Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year award, following in the footsteps of esteemed professors Jeffry A. Timmons (2004) and William Bygrave (2008), whom Neck describes as “fathers of entrepreneurship at Babson.”

The USASBE honor and that Babson history is particularly meaningful for Neck because Timmons, in particular, was a mentor to her and she now holds the title of Jeffry A. Timmons Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Babson.

“All of that is very emotional, and it’s just been so special,” Neck said of the connections to Timmons. “He definitely taught me about teaching and always encouraged me to find my own way in teaching.”

Innovating Entrepreneurship

“Entrepreneurship today,” Neck says, “is a life skill.”

And, she has been teaching it that way since 2001, when she first arrived at Babson, combining her experiences in the corporate world and with startup companies to apply real-world lessons to teach students and advance entrepreneurship education.

After earning her undergraduate degree from Louisiana State University, Neck pursued the “glamour” of working at a major corporation, the Dow Chemical Company, but grew restless and unfulfilled. With an interest in small and growing companies, as well as corporate training, she went back to school, earning her master’s degree and PhD from the University of Colorado, then joined Babson’s faculty.

“The field of entrepreneurship education is constantly evolving. The ability and support to push boundaries and experiment with new approaches is what has kept me at Babson for so long.”
Heidi Neck, Babson Professor of Entrepreneurship

“Babson was a place that allowed me to flourish and create the career that I wanted to create, that fit with me and who I am and what my skills are,” Neck said. “You are rewarded for being innovative in the classroom, and you are rewarded for doing research that you can translate into the classroom and for multiple audiences.”

Neck has co-authored several books, including the award-winning Entrepreneurship: The Practice and Mindset and Teaching Entrepreneurship: A Practice-Based Approach. Neck also co-edited Innovation in Global Entrepreneurship Education: Teaching Entrepreneurship in Practice, the first book by members of the Babson Collaborative for Entrepreneurship Education, which she started.

“The field of entrepreneurship education is constantly evolving,” Neck said. “The ability and support to push boundaries and experiment with new approaches is what has kept me at Babson for so long. Imagining what’s next in entrepreneurship education keeps me up at night—in a good way!”

Carrying on a Legacy

Neck’s greatest impact may be as academic director of the Babson Academy for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurial Learning, which shares what Babson teaches and how it teaches entrepreneurship throughout the world. Through programming such as the Babson Collaborative and both the Price-Babson Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators and the Global Symposia for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE), Babson Academy convenes and inspires educators around the world to teach entrepreneurship with a focus on mindset, practice, and action.

Timmons originally founded the Price-Babson Symposium in 1984, and groomed Neck as his successor. When Timmons passed away unexpectedly in 2008, Neck took over as faculty director and has helped SEE grow internationally, as well as developed new programs to further support educators.

“I’m emotionally connected to SEE,” Neck said. “Jeff’s death shook me, but I knew I needed to step up and honor his legacy. In a way, the SEE program keeps me connected to him.”

“We are making an impact around the world. When you think about the exponential impact of our educator programs, it can be mind boggling.”
Heidi Neck, Babson Professor of Entrepreneurship

Neck cites Babson Academy, Babson Collaborative, and especially carrying on the legacy of SEE as her greatest achievements. The ripple effect of educating educators extends far beyond her classroom.

“You train one educator and they educate 50 students, and they may do three sections a year. So, that’s 150 students,” Neck said. “And, then they may be teaching for 10 years, and they’re still using stuff that they learned at Babson. We are making an impact around the world. When you think about the exponential impact of our educator programs, it can be mind boggling.”

It’s the kind of influence that warrants recognition as USASBE’s Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year.

“I cannot think of a member of USASBE, or an entrepreneurship educator in the world for that matter,” said Julienne Shields, CEO of USASBE, “that has not been impacted directly or indirectly by Heidi’s work, her passion, and her leadership within the field of entrepreneurship education.”

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