Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

A recently published Inc. article reports on a Babson College study that finds “overwhelming” evidence that entrepreneurship can be taught. At least, teaching entrepreneurship seems to have a positive effect on whether students start their own businesses post graduation. According to the study:

  • There is overwhelming evidence that taking two or more core entrepreneurship elective courses positively influenced the intention to become an entrepreneur and becoming an actual entrepreneur both at the time of graduation and long afterward.
  • Writing a student business plan also had a significant influence, but it is not a strong as taking two or more core courses.

Of course, starting a business is not necessarily the same thing as providing the entrepreneurial function to the market as economists talk about. There should be little doubt that teaching students how to overcome practical obstacles, such as bureaucratic rules and regulations, and thereby creating an awareness of such obstacles and preparing them for the craftsmanship of actually running a business may be both useful and have a positive effect on number of start-ups. Yet such statistics may not be very useful in tracing the value of (and returns to) the entrepreneurial function. They also cannot establish what are the boundaries of entrepreneurship. (And where does collective entrepreneurship fit in the entrepreneurship picture?)

Interestingly, the study also states that “[t]he proportion of alumni entrepreneurs increases with the years after graduation,” which is quite ambiguous. One can only but wonder if this means entrepreneurship students wait to start businesses until their market experience and (one may assume) their access to accumulated capital increases – or do they start businesses when they have forgotten the lessons learned in entrepreneurship courses?

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One Response to Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

  1. Martin Eriksson says:

    As an entrepreneur myself, I think there is an annoying tendency to mystify entrepreneurship. Whether or not it can be taught seems to me a strange question to ask. In regards to the generic challenges of running a business – of course they can be taught, and it’s hardly rocket science. The same is true of things like the general heuristics for creating good products, communicating their value, raising venture capital, managing employees etc.

    It probably helps to be born with certain personality characteristics (strong sense of autonomy, below average risk aversion, a penchant for persuasion etc), but I guess that for students in entrepreneurship courses, there is pretty strong self-selection for such traits anyway. (Also, similar things can be said about almost any other profession, but as far as I know nobody researches whether, say, medicine can be taught or if some people are simply born to be doctors.)

    On the other hand, for political reasons I am slightly wary of this kind of thinking (and happy about the mystification). Starting your own company and being an entrepreneur is one of the few exciting careers available to people who don’t have academic degrees. (I’m a university flunk-out myself but have done quite well in business.) I bet governments would love to require people to have some kind of state controlled certification before they can start companies, and I can imagine them rationalizing it with reference to studies showing that education faciliates entrepreneurship… “Why, to let people run companies without proper education – that would just be irresponsible!!”

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