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  1. 1. Classes for would-be entrepreneurs are a hot trend at Americas universities. Butcan risk taking and originality be learned?It can be, but it depends on the individual.But can entrepreneurship really be taught in a classroom? Fierce debate eruptedover that question when a few maverick professors first introducedentrepreneurship classes to business schools more than 20 years ago. Now thatthe courses are a powerful draw at many universities, it is an issue worthrevisiting, especially given the rising cost of higher education. According to theCollege Board, the average tab for completing an MBA adds up to $162,000.Many acclaimed business builders say success depends as much ontemperament as on teaching. "An entrepreneur is a kind of genius who is born,not made," says Ann Winblad, 55, a co-founding partner at Hummer WinbladVenture Partners in San Francisco.Entrepreneurship is about having guts -- something professors cannot teach,adds Paul Fleming, 52, who founded P.F. Changs China Bistro, a Scottsdale-based restaurant chain that brought in $675 million in sales last year. "The stepsyou have to take, the risks you have to take -- I dont think in a million years youcan teach it in a classroom."Ultimately, building a successful business is about passion, says DorisChristopher, 60, who founded Pampered Chef in Addison, Ill., a direct seller ofkitchen tools; she sold it to Warren Buffetts Berkshire Hathaway in 2002. "Thepassion for your business is not something you can learn in a classroom."Consider three of todays great entrepreneurs: Michael Dell, Bill Gates, SteveJobs. Not one credits the classroom for his success. All are famously andunapologetically dropouts from college.
  2. 2. Education effectivenessAdmittedly, little research has been done on the effectiveness of various types ofentrepreneurship education. But intriguing results came from a 2002 study at theUniversity of Arizona.Researchers found that five years after graduation, the average annual incomefor entrepreneurship majors and MBAs who concentrated in entrepreneurship atthe school was almost $72,000, or 27 percent higher than for other businessmajors and students with standard MBAs.Moreover, entrepreneurship graduates were three times more likely to form newcompanies. And were not talking mom-and-pop shops. On average thebusinesses had annual sales of $50 million and employed 200.Taking an entrepreneurship class isnt likely to turn a student with no businesssmarts into an opportunity-spotting, moneymaking genius. Yet plenty ofanecdotal evidence suggests that the classes can speed the learning curve forthose with the right stuff. On the most fundamental level, the programs can teachstudents basic skills, such as managing financials or writing a business plan,forcing them to impose a structure and deadlines on dreams that they mightnever achieve otherwise.________________________________________Despite its increasing popularity, there remains a debate about whether entrepreneurship can infact be taught. Some maintain that entrepreneurship is more about personality traits – you eitherhave what it takes to be successful or you dont.Wharton Management Professor Raffi Amit and academic director of the GoergenEntrepreneurial Management Program, disagrees with that theory. "It is known, and my researchhas validated it beyond reasonable doubt, that there is no single set of traits that are absolutelynecessary to be a successful entrepreneur. We all have what it takes to be very successful," hesays.Amit maintains that entrepreneurship can be taught by providing students with a balance ofrigorous academic courses and hands-on programs in which they can turn their ideas into viablebusinesses.
  3. 3. "In classes, we teach students tools and techniques to address issues that entrepreneurs need toknow like how to evaluate an opportunity to determine if its right for you, how to finance ventures,and how to compete as a young company. And we teach them the entrepreneurial mindset sothey learn to be flexible and to adapt rapidly to new situations and continuously search for newopportunities. We give them the tools that enable them to avoid fatal flaws and traps and betterprepare them for the venturing process," he says.Such tools complement the courses and are offered through such programs as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence Program, the Venture Initiation Program and internships at early-stage companies.Students also can participate in the Wharton Business Plan Competition and other events andconferences throughout the year. "The classroom experience lays the foundation that then givesthem the principles to apply in the context of their own ideas," says Amit.John Lusk, who graduated from Whartons MBA Program in 1999, and subsequently launchedPlatinum Concepts with a classmate and wrote the book, "The Mouse Driver Chronicles: AnEntrepreneurial Adventure," says that the knowledge he learned in courses was essential. "I stillreference my notes from Prof. Leonard Lodishs class on Entrepreneurial Marketing. And one ofthe first courses I took involved a case study in which the entrepreneur utilized the network ofeveryone he knew all the way through the supply chain. That showed how your contacts are soimportant and why you need to utilize them to the hilt, which we absolutely did when we startedour business," says Lusk, who is now vice president of marketing at WhitePages Inc.Tobey, who graduated from Whartons Undergraduate Program in 2006 with a concentration inentrepreneurship, agrees not only that entrepreneurship can be taught, but that those coursesenrich students overall academic experience.Now a consultant with Oliver Wyman in Chicago, Tobey says that the practical opportunities likethe VIP and EIR program are great opportunities to find mentors who further the learning process."When you have people like Prof. Gary Dushnitsky or Jeffrey Babin of VIP talk about your ideasand ask questions you wouldnt think of off the bat, it helps guide you through the big ideaprocess and go from theoretical to a vision of what you need to think about on a day to day basis– the entrepreneurial mindset. If you go out there yourself with no direction, it will be much harderand you might need to start two or three businesses before you pick that up."Second-year MBA student Eurie Kim, who is concentrating in Entrepreneurial Management and isco-president of the Entrepreneurship Club, says that a lot of students are interested in startingtheir own business at some point, but many see entrepreneurship as a "big black box" that theyare afraid to look in, as they are unsure how to take the first step toward an entrepreneurialventure. "These classes are helpful because they walk you through the process in a low-riskenvironment," she says.Eurie points to an Innovation class taught by Prof. Karl Ulrich as an example. "He takes studentsthrough a framework of brainstorming business ideas and whittling them down to the viable ones.In another class taught by a VC you write a 40-page business plan and talk about the plan withvisiting CEOs. And there are classes that walk you through the actual process of getting funding.No one will teach you that in the real world, but here we can learn all of these things."She adds that even for students not planning to start their own business, the entrepreneurshipcurriculum is invaluable. "The courses teach students that there are many ways to be anentrepreneur as well as how you can tap into that in other parts of your life," says Kim, a VIPparticipant. "You can have an entrepreneurial state of mind in a consulting or banking firm basedon how you approach problems and think about innovation. Firms that recruit are very excited tosee an entrepreneurial spirit and feel that this type of person will make a real impact in their firm."And for those students who do plan to launch a business, the entrepreneurship curriculum givesthem a strong foundation from which to do so, according to Tobey. "In school you learn the tools
  4. 4. and entrepreneurial mindset. You dont need to start a business for two years and fail becauseyou have mentors and professors there to help you hone in on that mindset."---------------------------------------------------------------------But Im not sure it can always be learned, There are processes to entrepreneurshipthat institutes teach us, but does that create a prescription for entrepreneurship?There are millions of variables, and theyre too dynamic for us, at least in ourpresent state of understanding, to be able to prescribe success. But can we teachstudents enough to push up the odds of success? DependsAgain, it depends how we take it from the sources, but my thinking is - with positiveattitude, this can beEntrepreneurship has become big business. Nearly two-thirds of all the colleges anduniversities in the U.S. offer formal courses in it, 10 times as many as in the 1970s, whenonly 200 institutions had the temerity to think they could teach such a thing. Now businessschools are realizing that even if not everyone wants to be their own boss, people do want toknow the secrets of successful entrepreneurship. So they are looking at a new set ofpotential students--"corporate entrepreneurs."The idea behind the notion of corporate entrepreneurship, or "intrapreneurship," as itssometimes called, is that key features of start-up ventures--such as their pursuit of rapidgrowth, great flexibility and innovativeness--are just as vital for big corporations."Intrapreneurship helps counter the tendency of large companies to become less agile andeffective as their size produces more bureaucracy," says Patrice Houdayer, dean of EMLyon, which has become one of Europes top schools for entrepreneurship. "In times likethese, large organizations need to be as flexible as possible, ready to change and developrapidly to accommodate the shifting needs of their customers and of the market as a whole."EM Lyon has come up with a 10-point checklist of concerns for the budding intrapreneur. "Itcovers such basics as thinking and acting as if you were in a small organization, relying on asingle backer who can withdraw their support at just the wrong time, the linkage of personalreward with success and overidentification with a particular project," Houdayer says.But how far should schools go in trying to foster entrepreneurial spirit in big businesses? Theidea of mavericks shaking things up has its attractions, but doesnt it also have dangers?Isnt it mavericks who sparked every major financial blow-up from tulip fever and the SouthSea bubble to the dot-com implosion and the subprime mess?No it isnt, says Gregg Fairbrothers, at Dartmouth Colleges Tuck School, in New Hampshire.Youve got to distinguish between entrepreneurs and gamblers. "Gamblers take risks insearch of big payouts, especially under conditions of apparent moral hazard," he says, "andthey are motivated primarily by the idea of big payoffs out of proportion to effort and timeexpended. Those are the people who get us into trouble. Entrepreneurs are not risk takers;they are risk quantifiers and risk reducers."
  5. 5. Fairbrothers also observes that true entrepreneurial behavior means seeking to do newthings, to create something from scratch and to solve problems: "Of course entrepreneurslike to make money as much as anybody else, but most are motivated more by theachievement of making something happen than by the reward of quick, easy money. Verylittle entrepreneurial money comes easily--just ask a successful entrepreneur."Houdayer agrees with him but also sees the need for control mechanisms to curb over-adventurous behavior. "Organizations need to create environments that encourage newideas, new approaches and new methodologies but also ones with rigorous checks andbalances," he says. "Thats the way to avoid the sorts of problems the financial sector raninto."Business schools trying to promote intrapreneurship and free organizations from red tapeand conformity they may face their biggest challenge not with the well-establishedbusinesses of the West but with the new corporations of the developing world. China nowhas a number of global corporations that can afford to acquire, say, IBMs ( IBM - news -people ) computer business or Volvo. Those companies may superficially look like theirWestern counterparts, but their internal cultures are radically different. "The majority ofChinese companies are still driven by a single individual at the top, usually the owner orappointed CEO," says Ryan Owen, a partner in the Chinese arm of Antal, an internationalmanagement recruiter. "The paternalistic nature of so many businesses creates manybenefits, but it can smother the intrapreneurial spirit. Coming up with your own ideas issimply not encouraged, and many employees come to confuse initiative with disloyalty."According to Haico Ebbers, a professor at the China Europe Institute at Nyenrode businessschool in the Netherlands, this challenge requires working within the system. "BecauseChinese businesses are still at a relatively early stage of development," he says, "there is adilemma about how much freedom they can safely give their managers and professionals. Itwould be important to build safety measures into the system, because these arent peoplewho are used to admitting when something isnt working or is going wrong, and theyre notused to strategic thinking. There is still a common belief that you can deal with a problemwhen it arises rather than trying to prevent it from happening in the first place."Richard Goossen wears many hats. Over the past 20 years, Goossen, a lawyer,businessman, and academic, has founded startups, acted as strategic adviser to high-growth companies, written three books, and spoken extensively on the subject ofentrepreneurship. Now the CEO of M&A Capital Corp. and a professor ofentrepreneurship at Trinity Western University in Vancouver, B.C., Goossen recentlydecided to tackle the question:Can entrepreneurship be taught? (Businessweek.com,10/30/06)
  6. 6. "If I go into any social setting, people always wonder how can you teachentrepreneurship," says Goossen. So he decided to explore the topic further. He roundedup a group of entrepreneurship experts ranging from Peter Drucker (Businessweek.com,11/28/05) to Rita Gunther McGrath to Karl Vesper. He culled their insights, broke themdown, and published the results in his most recent book, Entrepreneurial Excellence:Profit From the Best Ideas of the Experts (Career Press; 2007). "My motivation was totalk to the top researchers and instructors in the world who teach something that a lot ofpeople think cant be taught," he says.Goossen came to the conclusion that while there are several elements that can be taughtto enhance the knowledge and success of entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship is somethingone can learn only by doing. "With law or accounting,you can teach a set of principlesthat a student can master to become a competent practitioner," he says. "But teachingentrepreneurship is tough. In a class its hard to predict who will do well and who willnot."As a result of his research, Goossen has come up with three entrepreneurial elements thatcan be taught. The first is general business knowledge—what he calls "the nuts and boltsof management principles and strategic thinking." Next, there are general entrepreneurialprinciples. "You can lean from what other people have done and where they mademistakes," he says. Finally, he says one can learn to be alert to opportunities in certainfields in a general sense.What cant be taught, on the other hand, is what Goossen calls "venture specificopportunity principles." By that he means the ability to understand and see specificniches in a market and recognize whether it will be successful or not. "You cant teachsomeone how to know what will work and what wont," says Goossen. "You cant evenduplicate the set of dynamics of a past success."In 1970, a national survey of business schools found just 16 courses offered inentrepreneurship. Since then, entrepreneurial education has taken off like the Internet craze.Karl Vesper, University of Washington management professor and entrepreneurship expert,did the groundbreaking 1970 study that, when repeated in 1997, uncovered more than 400schools offering at least one course in entrepreneurship, and more than 50 schools with fouror more courses."Money, mostly" is the reason so many schools have added entrepreneurship to theirofferings, says Vesper, who explains that colleges want to tap into donations from wealthyalumni. But the visibility of entrepreneurs in business in the past three decades has alsoplayed a role. As headlines blared about the innovation and personal wealth that went hand-in-hand with entrepreneurs and start-up ventures, especially in the technology sector, thepublic became increasingly fascinated with start-up businesses and the risk-taking mind-setthat defines the entrepreneur.
  7. 7. Entrepreneurial education arguably started at Harvard University in 1947 with a singlecourse. In the mid-1980s, entrepreneurship came into its own, and programs sprang upoffering entrepreneurship tracks and even majors for MBA and undergraduate students. Bythe turn of the millennium, students could major or minor in entrepreneurship--even get adoctorate and join the professors researching and teaching entrepreneurial managementand finance. Along with entrepreneurial degree programs, schools hold student businessplan competitions, sponsor research centers and host venture capital forums. Today, morethan three dozen academic research journals are dedicated to topics ranging from familybusinesses, franchising and women entrepreneurs to corporate venturing, incubators andinner-city business development.The business students who filled the multiplying classrooms werent all planning to startbusinesses of their own. Some just wanted to pad their resumes with courses that wouldconvince potential employers they possess the entrepreneurial mind-set. But many, likeIraklis Grous, a 19-year-old sophomore at Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts,specifically wanted to learn how to become entrepreneurs.Grous chose Babson College in particular because of a required freshman course giving ateam of 30 students $3,000 to start a business. His teams venture, an inflatable-furnituremarketing business called AirChairs, generated $1,000 in profits and confirmed Grousdesire to be an entrepreneur. The instruction and environment at Babson "definitely" haswhetted his entrepreneurial instincts and understanding, Grous says. In fact, hes alreadyincorporated his first start-up, an adventure travel agency called Sirius Trekking, which hehopes will begin operations this summer. After graduation in 2005, he says, "if the profitsfrom Sirius go well, Id love to start another company."Despite the enthusiasm of students like Grous, skeptics still ask: Can entrepreneurship betaught? "It can be taught," asserts Stephen Spinelli, director of Babsons Arthur M. BlankCenter for Entrepreneurship. "But Im not sure it can always be learned. There are processesto entrepreneurship that we teach, but does that create a prescription for entrepreneurship?No. There are millions of variables, and theyre too dynamic for us, at least in our presentstate of understanding, to be able to prescribe success. But can we teach students enoughto push up the odds of success? I think so."Well-chosen extracurricular activities can push those odds up still further, argues AlvinRohrs, CEO of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), a Springfield, Missouri, organization thathas enlisted business students at more than 1,400 schools around the globe to teachmembers of their local communities to start businesses. "It works on two levels," says Rohrs."One of our premises is that if youre asked to teach something, youre going to learn itbetter." Student teachers learn organization, teambuilding, communication and leadership.
  8. 8. And the informal entrepreneurship students in the communities also benefit. "SIFE teams inGhana and Mexico [have taken] entire villages and turned them from subsistence farmersinto business owners," explains Rohrs.Entrepreneurship is one of the most important aspects of our economy and studentsunderstand that. They no longer believe they can take a job with a large corporation andexpect that they will spend their careers in one place. Students know they have to build awide range of interdisciplinary skills that give them maximum flexibility and preparationfor the future. Entrepreneurship is one such skill. Whether considering starting anenterprise or just wanting to be an outstanding employee, students want to learn how torecognize opportunity, harness the resources to exploit that opportunity, exercise theircreativity, create sustainable solutions, take the inherent risks, and participate in therewards. Schools are trying to meet this student demand.Since entrepreneurship is relatively new to higher education, it has yet to become alegitimate academic field of study. In fact, we are frequently asked: Can entrepreneurshipeven be taught? Entrepreneurs have long been seen as self-taught, self-madeindividualists. The perception dates from the days of men like Carnegie, Edison, andothers, who had little formal schooling. However, the great entrepreneurs of the past didnot really learn or do it all themselves. In the early industrial cities-which wereadventurous places, teeming with entrepreneurial activity in then-new fields liketelegraphy and railroading-entrepreneurs had access to informal communities of teachersand learners. There they were able to tap into rich networks of contacts for the additionalskills and resources their own new ventures needed.Today, the learning communities and networks are mostly found in and around collegecampuses. The modern American campus is anything but an ivory tower. It is thecrossroads of civilization; just as young people from all points once converged on thegreat cities to learn and shape their destinies, today they go to college. The campus iswhere all fields can intersect and cross-pollinate- mathematics and medicine, philosophyand public policy, engineering and the arts -and where all sectors of the real-worldeconomy are represented. Private firms and investors, government agencies, andnonprofits all come to campus to sponsor research, to breed and recruit talent, to searchfor new ideas. It is no coincidence that the regions flourishing with entrepreneurialactivity today tend to grow up around universities: that is where the high-impactentrepreneurs of tomorrow are.Is Entrepreneurship "Scientific"?Does entrepreneurship deserve to be a legitimate part of the interdisciplinary nature of amodern university education? Can it be taught? We think yes. Many people once thoughtthat management-a related field-could not be taught. It was largely seen as a personalknack or a set of elusive, intangible skills. But as firms grew too large and complex forseat-of-the-pants managing, there was a need to make the practice more "scientific" andlearnable. Today, management is taught everywhere.
  9. 9. Only in recent times have we begun to see entrepreneurship as a field of study in its ownright. Since the 1970s, the nations growth has again become reliant on waves of newventures in emerging industries. This has made it manifestly clear that conceiving andstarting an enterprise-taking the germ of an idea and turning it into an ongoing concern-isnot the same as managing what already exists and that, likewise, the practice needs to bemade more understandable and available to students regardless of discipline.Despite the success stories of Bill Gates and Michael Dell, who started college butdropped out to start their companies, many people start companies and fail or have greatideas that are unrealized due to lack of knowledge. Peter Drucker put it bluntly:"Entrepreneurship is risky mainly because so few of the so-called entrepreneurs knowwhat they are doing. They lack the methodology," he wrote in his 1985 book Innovationand Entrepreneurship. That book was an early attempt to codify basic principles. Sincethen, entrepreneurship education has taken off.The State of the ArtMore than 2,000 college and universities in the United States, about two-thirds of thetotal, now offer a course in entrepreneurship. A smaller but growing number have entiresequences leading to an undergraduate minor, a masters in entrepreneurship, orsomething similar. Entrepreneurship "centers," with outreach activities led by seasonedentrepreneurs serving as coaches, are proliferating.The Kauffman Foundation has helped to fuel much of this growth. For instance, grants toStanford University in the 1990s helped launch the Stanford Technology VenturesProgram and the Educators Corner, a modest name for a technology-based program thataggregates and offers resources for those teaching entrepreneurship to engineering,science, and technology students. This material is available to any educator via the Weband contains course syllabi, case studies, and videos of noted entrepreneurs such asGoogles Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. More than 1,000 diverse grants to otherinstitutions have funded internships, development of specific courses, dissertations,faculty development seminars, consortium of educators and center directors, and the like.In short, entrepreneurship education on campuses is vibrant, popular, and useful, buthovering at an emergent stage. The Kauffman Foundation has, therefore, shifted itsstrategy in this area. Rather than cast a multitude of relatively small grants far and wideto seed the effort, we are now focused on looking at a university as a whole-engagingwith an institution in a campus-wide, cross-disciplinary approach to entrepreneurship. Weare now funding schools that-as institutions-want to provide an interdisciplinaryeducation in entrepreneurship. Presidents, chancellors, provosts, deans of variousdisciplines, professors, and center directors are committed to work together to provide allstudents with access to entrepreneurship courses, most often taught in combination withother subjects.We started on this new path in late 2003, when we awarded $25 million in grants to eightcolleges and universities-now referred to as the Kauffman Campuses-to help them move
  10. 10. entrepreneurship education across campus, outside of the business or engineering school.Less than two years into the program, the Kauffman Campuses already have madesubstantial progress in cultivating a more entrepreneurial environment at their schools-one in which students of all academic disciplines can learn and experience the benefits ofan entrepreneurial mind-set.Facing the ChallengesDespite these gains, entrepreneurship still lives mostly on the fringes of academe, not inthe mainstream. Many in the academic world itself still view entrepreneurship as notquite a legitimate, full-fledged field of study.It is natural that, as a new field emerges on campus, it takes time to find its rightful placeand often shifts along the way. A recent Kauffman Foundation-sponsored survey foundthat the names and key concepts of entrepreneurship courses vary widely from school toschool. And though most programs have some basic features in common, there is somuch variation it is hard to identify a typical curriculum, let alone an exemplary one.While diversity is good, this field needs more of the consistency found in others. Forinstance, we can agree that engineering students must have Calculus I and II or Englishstudents must have Shakespeare. In those fields there is also a firm sense of what thecourses should look like.We have barely scratched the surface in learning to teach entrepreneurship in fields otherthan business and engineering. Just as most schools of fine arts now teach artsmanagement, we want students to learn how best to start a new theater company or artscenter. Education majors ought to be able to learn how best to start a new magnet orcharter school-and so on through the humanities, the social sciences, and the variousprofessional schools.Moreover, beneath the gaps there is a conundrum. To develop good curricula in all theseareas, we need more faculty who research entrepreneurship to understand how it works.This research is typically done or led by qualified Ph.D.-holding faculty, of whom thereare still few in entrepreneurship. Most faculty are either adjuncts (having practical-lifeexperience but not the academic standing required), or they are "crossovers" from otherdisciplines (having the standing and the research skills, but little familiarity withentrepreneurship).A New StrategyCurriculum has to be made deeper, sounder, and more consistent across the board. Soinstead of supporting "one-off" curriculum projects at various institutions, we are nowfocused on piloting and replicating true world-class coursework. For instance, we will bepartnering with schools to develop and disseminate an entire new learning sequence forstudents. To fill a key gap in the curriculum, we are looking at refining and disseminatinga very promising new approach to teaching opportunity recognition. And to spread
  11. 11. entrepreneurship across the campus, we will help propagate some of the best new curriculum developed at the Kauffman Campuses. Faculty development is a crucial, related issue. Many schools do not have enough qualified faculty to meet the growing student demand. We are thus intensifying efforts to recruit faculty from all disciplines-be it business, the social sciences, or any other discipline-and prepare them to teach and do research in entrepreneurship. One way we will do this is by seeding and supporting networks of like-minded faculty across the United States. There are few such mechanisms at present, and they are needed so that entrepreneurship educators can learn from one another and work together to raise the bar for all. We are also looking at novel ideas. Faculty of exceptional promise, for instance, might soon be competing for Kauffman-sponsored sabbaticals: a new kind that would give them time off to study entrepreneurship, develop a course, or lay plans for an academic journal-plus follow-up support to then implement and disseminate what they have learned and done. As curriculum and faculty grow stronger, we need to assure that entrepreneurship gains full academic status in higher education. All efforts require enlisting partners and champions. Kauffman is working at this from every angle, not only among faculty, but with university presidents and chancellors. We are also working "from the outside in" with successful entrepreneurs and other champions in the private sector. Many have been very generous thus far, in matters such as creating endowed chairs and professorships in entrepreneurial studies. The key is to lift this groundswell to a new level: we have been working with others, for instance, to form a national panel on entrepreneurship education that might, among other things, take the lead on defining the curriculum for entrepreneurship in higher education. Our ultimate goal is to see that any young person who enters college, in any field of study, has the chance for a great education in entrepreneurship. Of course not everyone will aspire to be an entrepreneur. But we believe that everyone should at least be acquainted with the role entrepreneurship plays in the economy, aware of the possibility of entrepreneurship as a choice at some point in their careers, and know how to engage with the process. The world in our time-the world these young people will go into-is never static; it is always being re-invented. And that is precisely what entrepreneurship is about. It is a means of re-inventing the world. Nature or nurture? Do entrepreneurs really need a business-school education? Oct 6th 2009•• Richard Branson: what could have been?Rex Features
  12. 12. AMONG the thousands of business schools now operating around the world youwould be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t believe it can teach the skills ofentrepreneurship. However, of the people who immediately spring to mind when onethinks of entrepreneurs—Bill Gates, Richard Branson or Oprah Winfrey, for example—few have done more than deliver a speech at a business school. Indeed, a recentstudy by King’s College in London has suggested what many intuitively suspect: thatentrepreneurship may actually be in the blood—more to do with genes thanclassroom experience. All of which invites the question—does an entrepreneur reallyneed a business-school education?Not surprisingly some of the best-known schools in the field have a ready answer tothis: they don’t actually profess to create entrepreneurs, rather they nurture innateability. Or as Timothy Faley of the entrepreneurial institute at Michigan’s Ross Schoolof Business puts it: “A good idea is not enough. You need to know how to transforma good idea into a good business.”Schools do this in a number of ways. One is to ensure that faculty are a mix ofclassic academics and businesspeople with experience of setting up their ownsuccessful firms. They can also create “incubators” where students nurture ideas andrub shoulders on a day-to-day basis with the external business world, receiving bothadvice and hard cash in the form of investment.Arguably such help is now more important than ever. The modern entrepreneur isfaced with a more complex world than when Richard Branson began by sellingrecords out of a phone box. According to Patrice Houdayer, head of one of Europe’sbest-known entrepreneurship schools, EMLYON in France, new businesses used tomove through a distinct series of growth steps—what he terms garage, local,national and international. Now however, thanks to the communications revolution,they can leapfrog these stages and go global more or less straightaway—encountering a whole new set of problems and challenges. In this context ProfessorHoudayer maintains that the increasingly diverse nature of MBA classes can help thenascent entrepreneur in three ways: by plugging them into an international networkof contacts and advisors, by preparing them for the pitfalls and opportunitiesassociated with dealing across different cultures and by exposing them to thedifferent ways that business is conducted around the globe.Better in than out?Of course entrepreneurship, at least according to the business schools, has movedon in more than just its international aspect. The thinking now is thatentrepreneurship is no longer just the province of the small, growing company, butshould be applied and practised in organisations of every size. And, because everyconcept must have a name, this idea of the big company entrepreneur now has itsown designation—intrapreneurship.
  13. 13. At first sight intrapreneurship looks like an excellent idea. Too many largeorganisations ossify once they reach a certain size and the creative spark that madethem successful in the first place can all too easily be stifled by bureaucracy,conformity and an unwillingness to take risks. What better way to tackle this than tothrow a few mavericks with fire and ambition into the corporate mix? Except, somedecry, haven’t we just seen the results of letting mavericks have their own way atthe levers of power? Creating such radically bright ideas as the sub-prime mortgage,for example, and playing fast and loose with the basic rules of risk management, andconsequently plunging us into the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.An interesting point say the schools, but for Veronique Bouchard, who teaches on theGlobal Entrepreneurship Programme at EMLYON, there’s a big difference between anentrepreneur and a “mad trader”. She argues that what is being advocated is notgiving free rein to any reckless notion, but harnessing the innovative resources thatwill be present in every thriving business. That means creating an environment whichencourages new ideas and approaches, but which also builds in checks and balances.By doing this an organisation will avoid the sort of anarchy that resulted in the laststages of the banking boom years. And it will also eliminate the “spend because it’sthere” attitude that develops when individuals are afraid of abandoning redundantprojects because they fear they will not be able to access funding again. Thecorollary of all this is that to be truly effective, schools should not just be educatingintrapreneurs themselves. Perhaps even more importantly they also need to beeducating the businesses which host them.