Teaching Entrepreneurship by Heidi Neck, Patricia Greene and Candida Brush

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Teaching entrepreneurship in colleges and universities has become a commodity.  Thousands of schools around the world offer courses, the majority focusing on basic processes for starting and growing a business.   Over the past 10 years we have taught hundreds of educators from all over the world in our Price Babson Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators and in training community college faculty and we have examined the top 60 texts used in entrepreneurship education.  We find that the common denominator across all faculty, texts and syllabi is that the mindset is rooted in a “process model” of entrepreneurship.  What is a process model for teaching entrepreneurship?

The basic activities involve identifying an opportunity, evaluating the pros and cons, then creating a plan for executing and acting on theopportunity.  In the classroom, what generally happens is that the focus is on the crafting of the plan, or “planning” all elements for implementation of the new venture (e.g. pro-forma financials, market projections, team planning).  In other words, the focus is on the content and the “what” of entrepreneurship. Less focus is on the actual implementation and action or the “how”. This is not surprising because colleges and universities have certain standards for measuring student accomplishments and learnings in classes, so teaching a process with milestones where progress on entrepreneurial plan development can be measured fits the academic norm.

But, as we all know- entrepreneurship is chaotic, uncertain, and to actually be entrepreneurial, you have to do things, take action, rather than just plan.  The reality is that the process approach is neither the most realistic nor most effective approach for the current environment. Over the years we have had scores of students who spend an entire semester writing a plan for a business idea that is not remotely feasible or viable and that they have no possibility of actually implementing.   They get too caught up in the process of planning.

The message of our book is quite simple.  We want to significantly advance the field of entrepreneurship education using an action-based method rooted in a set of practices that can be employed with students by entrepreneurship educators of all kinds.

We argue that to significantly advance the field of entrepreneurship education, we need to teach it as a method, rooted in a set of practices that can be employed with students by entrepreneurship educators of all kinds. Our new book presents a novel approach for teaching entrepreneurship. Our method of teaching entrepreneurship has two basic foundations, both focused more on the how than the what, although we do dearly enjoy talking about the what as well.

Foundation #1: Entrepreneurship education requires both theory and practice. Where we depart from the norm, however, is that we do not care if students know the theory by name or even know it is there.  The theory is invisible and, more importantly, actionable.

Teaching Entrepreneurship

Teaching Entrepreneurship

Let’s face it, when it comes to the theory v. practice debate, we’re all in the pit but the pendulum is running amok.  Rather than one or the other, the audiences are split.  The poles of the arc’s continuum can be considered that on one side is the theory based faculty member, perhaps with no “real” business experience, and guided by a belief and commitment to promulgating frameworks with a sincere belief that they will guide practice.  The other end might be considered to be the practitioner with a visceral disdain for what is perceived to be an ivory tower approach.  The desired end advanced in this session is a synthesis (Radelin, 2007), but a synthesis that is matched to the intended educational audience.  The theoretical approach would provide the set of statements to describe, explain, and predict the world around our students.  The practice approach provides content, opportunities to practice, and an arena for analysis.  In our book we present a matrix that helps teachers of all kinds think through their approach, partially dependent on their content and audience. Overall, our point is that we have to develop and practice the type of teaching method that has deep resonance and retention with all types of students.

Foundation #2: Practices of entrepreneurship education include empathy, play, creation, experimentation, and reflection. Each practice is grounded in actionable theories from across disciplines and together constitutes a method of thinking and acting entrepreneurially regardless of context.

Our second foundation is the exploration of fives practices of entrepreneurship education.  We are advocating a portfolio of practices to build entrepreneurial learning capacity so those entrepreneurs of all kinds can navigate in a continuously changing and uncertain world.   We look at empathy as a skill that helps us understand others.  Play is about the freedom and imagination to see a world of opportunities while Creation stands in opposition to prediction as a pathway to enacting those opportunities.  Experimentation is trying something, seeing what the results are, learning from the results, and then trying it again.  And of course, Reflection helps to codify the action-based learning experiences, thereby actually enhancing each of the other practices.

Because we have all struggled with how to make entrepreneurship “actionable” in the classroom and spent time searching for appropriate exercises, we decided to draw from our colleagues who have created a portfolio of activities and teaching notes that can be used to teach entrepreneurship as a method. The second part of our book is a collection of 42 classroom exercises organized by each of the practices.  Each exercise has a detailed teaching note that includes a description of the exercise, learning objectives, theoretical foundations, material needs, class plan, and teaching tips.  Every one of the exercises was contributed by a Babson College professor and every one of them is tested, tried and true to the spirit of developing the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders. The exercises range from simple to complex, individual to group, short to long, and even weird to more traditional!

The writing of this book was driven by one central share belief:  Teaching entrepreneurship as a method goes beyond understanding, knowing, and talking.   It requires using, applying, and acting.  As we trumpet for our students, our method of teaching and learning entrepreneurship requires practice.   We hope you all enjoy practicing with this book.

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