The role education plays in entrepreneurship is a discussion built on the assumption that entrepreneurship is a skill that can be developed. I believe entrepreneurship is a label we place on the human ability to organize, develop tools, and collect resources to survive.
Being taught to have the confidence and ability to effectively apply those skills in a business sense may not suit everyone’s interests but you can be taught how to better leverage your ability in a business situation. Few will ever be truly great entrepreneurs but most can be happy and make a living being an entrepreneur.
If you accept it is a skill that can be developed then the tough questions to ask are: Who can teach it? What role do education institutions have in the development of entrepreneurs? Do we need more resources? Does education need to change?
In October I participated in the Quebec City Conference – a gem of a conference that focuses on venture capital, policy, and supporting companies. I found myself in a room with a number very smart an accomplished educators (this includes a number of other experienced Directors of programs, VCs, academics, and founders) of entrepreneurship in Canada we covered the topic of the role of education in entrepreneurship.
When I left the room I was left thinking that opinions over education and entrepreneurship are shaped by their understanding of what education is (or isn’t). A lot of people only have the perspective of a student in education and they are focused on the classroom only.
I think education institutions as a whole have a general set of responsibilities:
- Teach people how to learn.
- Create an environment where students can explore their interests and develop expertise.
- Through education and research, develop civic minded citizens — otherwise what is the public interest in funding it?
Entrepreneurship education is something that is being discussed specifically like it is something different and special. I think there are three key areas that people are currently lumping into one:
- Developing companies and supporting founders as they begin the journey by providing space and/or specifically designed extra-curricular programming.
- Developing students knowledge and skills to either build their own company or succeed at being an employee in an early stage company, otherwise known as (build your own) career preparation as part of their formal education.
- Intellectual property (or research) commercialization
The three key areas require different things and are measured by different metrics but at the same time are deeply dependant on one another to be successful. I am highly skeptical that a single ‘program’ or department could do all three well. I also think higher education by its design was already doing all three but their core business metrics don’t allow them to focus on it.
Whatever the solution is in higher education with regards to entrepreneurship education it must be anchored in its responsibilities as an education institution. To me that means the outcome is a culture shift — the environment needs to support people that want to build businesses and the people at those institutions need to be incentivized to support the people and the activities around building businesses.
Culture shifts are harder than creating a program. They take longer than election cycles and my guess is that they are a reflection of the culture in the broader community. They talk of education as a whole needs to focus less on the belief that education is broken and focus more on what is working and how to make it better.