Entrepreneurship education all at sea – by Colin Jones

stationary small boat

photo credit: mendhak
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During the last two years I have had the good fortune to gain exposure to many approaches to educating for and through entrepreneurship. It would seem that the world is alive and thriving, with enterprise everywhere. Everywhere it would seem but the traditional business school, which continues to see entrepreneurship as merely a subject area like marketing, accounting and human resources. Alternatively, some business schools are finally getting their act together and seeking to position themselves through the development of an enterprising mindset. Sadly, the traditional business school, drowning in mediocrity is reaching out to the increasingly popular entrepreneurship programs for salvation; just as strategic management research scholars did through the 80s and 90s. What they fail to see is that their time in the sun is almost done. To demonstrate this claim, lets consider the nature of innovations bubbling away related to enterprise education.

However, let’s first briefly define the primary difference between entrepreneurship education and enterprise education. The recently developed QAA guide developed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education defines enterprise education as a process of “equipping students with an enhanced capacity to generate ideas and the skills to make them happen”. Alternatively, they define entrepreneurship education as equipping “students with the additional knowledge, attributes and capabilities required to apply these abilities in the context of setting up a new venture or business”. Thus, in the first instance enterprise education is necessary to develop a distinctive mindset. Importantly, a business context is not a requirement for enterprise education, whereas it is for entrepreneurship education. With this in mind let’s return to considering the nature of innovative activity happening in and around the provision of enterprise education.

Imagine sailing on the high seas and learning how to be enterprising, solving unique problems from port to port. Imagine, landing in a foreign country, meeting a bunch of strangers and having to establish a residence whilst learning to be enterprising solving real problems for large global brands. Such is the predicament for many lucky students of enterprise these days. In our first example, students attending the Unreasonable at Sea program engaged in a radical experiment involving 20 mentors; 100 days, 1 ship; 13 countries; 11 new ventures; and 1 belief that entrepreneurship will change the world. Listening to the founder of this initiative, Daniel Epstein, receive his awards as the entrepreneurship educator at the recent World Entrepreneurship Forum, I was struck by his passion and commitment to not let anything get in his way from ensuring his students gained an authentic education.

This was also the case with out second example, that of Knowmads Business School in Amsterdam. The school’s founder Pieter Spinder recently addressed the International Enterprise Educators Conference at Sheffield in the UK. His presentation started with a very provocative student-centred video titled, what if money were no object?

This wonderful video clip led nicely into Pieter’s view that any such educational experience needs to be built from the needs of the students involved, not the historical needs of any higher educational institution seeking to participate in this space. Pieter is focused upon educating change makers who emerge from simultaneous chaos and order. They do not need to rely upon textbooks; rather they develop individuals through exciting and challenging experiences and ongoing meaningful reflection. That is not to say that existing higher education players cannot succeed in this space without such radical approaches.

One such example is the wonderful work of Patti Greene and her colleagues at Babson College in developing legitimacy for their practice-based approach. Their notion of invisible theory, where students engage in practice that is based on rigorous (yet invisible) theory, offers an obvious way forward for higher education. A pathway that accommodates theory, but never at the expense of practice. One only has to look at how enterprise education is developing inside higher education, yet outside of the business school, to see what is possible. From engineering to the arts, from science to the humanities, enterprise education is flourishing. It is solving context-based problems for students who choose not to study business. Only in the business school is the idea of theory first, maybe practice second still possible.

A few years ago I spoke to an educator from Nairobi. Her approach to educating students was to pair each student with a local entrepreneur and arrange for them to walk 5 km in one direction and then return home, all the way chatting and learning about each other’s dreams, challenges and journeys. This clearly was a very successful approach to fostering interest and confidence in being entrepreneurial. We all have a role to play in educating tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. There are so many different ways in which such an education can take place. But the world has moved on, teachers no longer expect to be given an apple from their students, and students no longer expect to have to read a book to learn. Great educators can help students in so many different ways to make a difference. Let’s not let the lazy educators get in the way of the change makers of tomorrow.

Colin Jones photographDr. Colin Jones is Senior Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at the Australian Innovation Research Centre at the University of Tasmania and the author of Teaching Entrepreneurship to Undergraduates and Teaching Entrepreneurship to Postgraduates. He is a regular Think Tank member of the World Entrepreneurship Forum.

We are offering a 35% discount on Colin’s books until the end of December when purchased through our website. Once the book is in your shopping basket, enter the code ENTP35 in the special discount code box after you have entered your delivery details.

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