July 28, 2011

Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

A study shows that the more entrepreneurial classes taught at the MBA level, the more likely students are to become entrepreneurs.

Professors at the Wellesley, Massachusetts-based college analyzed a survey of some 3,755 alumni and found that two (“or better yet three”) entrepreneurship classes strongly affected students’ decisions to pursue start-ups, and that writing a student business plan also had some influence, though not as strong.

It doesn’t, however, explain what kind of entrepreneurship these graduates engage in. If the metric is as basic as ‘started a business’, this is next-to-useless knowledge. Why?The kind of entrepreneurship matters.

Rentiers coming out of an MBA and domain squatting, starting a GroupOn clone, door-to-door insurance, or worse, realtor etc shouldn’t be weighted the same as catalysts – who shatter old assumptions, build out new markets, etc.

That is, those who create opportunity and not simply capture it are the kind of entrepreneur the world needs. If that’s what these 3-entrepreneurship-class-graduates are doing, then great. Else, this study in no way proves the idea that entrepreneurship can be taught, despite the declarations of this MBA program, these professors, and these students (all of whom share a huge financial interest in doing just that)

“It’s time to cast off the prejudiced question, ‘Why teach entrepreneurship?’, because we now have excellent empirical evidence that it makes difference. We think that entrepreneurship should be taught not only for the production and training of entrepreneurs but also to help students decide if they have the right stuff to be entrepreneurs before they embark on careers for which they may be ill-suited,” they write.

Of course entrepreneurship can be taught. But the solution isn’t the superficial application of two, maybe three classes when you’re 30 and paying a $100k entrance fee to the upper class.

Like any other form of thinking, it’s a lifelong process, and not a destination. Institutionalize that, and the world changes.

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