As a professor of entrepreneurship and management at the University of Oklahoma, much of Dr. Lowell Busenitz’s research and teaching is rooted in the biblical view of giftedness. For 13 years, he has encouraged students to start businesses or pursue jobs consistent with their individual personalities, passions, and talents. He believes that through our unique gifting, God gives us each a glimpse of his creation to share with others (see the video below).
“The closing paper they write in my class is, ‘Where do I fit in the world of entrepreneurship?’” said Lowell. Often students return to his office a few months to a year later, still needing to process this question. Lowell’s own discovery of where he fits in this field began in the 1970s with his relationship with God.
Girls, Drinking, and Bible Study
As a freshman at Grace Bible Institute in 1970, Lowell felt stagnant in his faith and needed stretching. He knew a lot about Christianity, but sensed there was more to walking with Jesus than what he was doing. Encouraged by his older brother to attend Urbana 70, Lowell heard inspiring speakers such as Billy Graham, Elisabeth Elliot, and John Stott.
But what really grabbed Lowell’s attention was meeting college students from across the country, the vast majority involved in InterVarsity chapters. “Through my interaction with them, I saw the life that there was on secular campuses among students,” said Lowell. “I decided to transfer the next year.”
He applied to Emporia State University, joined InterVarsity, and changed his major since many of the missions agencies at Urbana expressed a need for business skills. During his first semester, he attended InterVarsity’s Bible and Life Conference. “I came back and felt like God was calling me to lead an evangelistic Bible study. I was scared stiff,” said Lowell. “I didn’t know what guys in my dorm would talk about besides girls and drinking.” Yet he met several students eager to study the Bible with him, and one student, a non-Christian, was so excited to take part, he did most of the recruiting.
An Active Student Movement
Lowell enjoyed working with other students, whether in Bible studies or chapter meetings, and joined InterVarsity staff after graduation. “In the late 1970s, the student movement was so robust and active,” said Lowell. “We didn’t work to plant new chapters. We were getting phone calls, saying, ‘Please, can you come here!’ It was hard to turn down.”
During his first year on staff, Lowell worked with three different campuses, which soon expanded to five, then seven, and eventually nine. Six years later, Lowell was burned out. “I had to step aside for the sake of my family and for me,” he said.
He worked awhile in construction and eventually started his own business. As another six years passed, he realized his passion still was working with students. “There’s this great energy from hanging around students,” said Lowell. “Yes, sometimes the days are long, but the students are here four short years. What an opportunity!” Encouraged by friends, he returned to school so he could eventually teach at a university.
Inspired by Scripture
In graduate school at Texas A&M, Lowell’s interest gravitated towards entrepreneurship. The research on entrepreneurs, however, was limited. For awhile, people had studied personality traits, wondering if successful entrepreneurs had a higher risk and higher need for achievement or perhaps a greater tolerance for ambiguity. By the mid-1980s, mixed results led scholars to abandon this train of thought.
But Lowell’s study of Scripture with InterVarsity convinced him that the issue was relevant and rooted in the many Bible verses on giftedness. “We’re all unique creatures that God has designed and put together,” said Lowell. “Some people are more gifted in starting businesses that require a lot of bootstrapping and connecting the dots. Other people are better at taking the baton once the business has started.”
Lowell’s dissertation proposed that entrepreneurs make decisions differently than managements in large organizations by relying on their heuristics and intuitive judgments. “They have to as part of their survival,” said Lowell.“They can’t be too rational, or they’ll never get around to starting a business.”
His insight sparked a breakthrough in understanding how entrepreneurs function and succeed, and influenced other scholars to pursue the topic again. One of his published articles has been cited in over 800 other research works. Today business students are learning more about how to approach new opportunities in their business ventures.
“There are strengths to entrepreneurs and definite weaknesses,” said Lowell. “But they help us better understand entrepreneurs and give us some glimpse of what the Creator has made.” Like many other InterVarsity alumni, Lowell’s work reflects those truths revealed to him.