Saturday, 30 January 2016

Entrepreneurship education for the next wave. Are we fit for purpose?

During the last 12 months I have made a dramatic change to me career. having spent 14 wonderful years at the Cambridge Judge Business School where I had the opportunity to establish the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning we defined our core purpose as "spreading the spirit of enterprise". The change is that I have moved to Cranfield  University, my alma mater where I was also previously in the enterprise group. My core purpose remains unchanged, but the vision is to unlock the entrepreneurial potential at Cranfield.

The vision at Cambridge was relevant at the turn of the century in Europe and, possibly, on a worldwide basis. Cultures needed changing to be in favour of entrepreneurs. We needed to de-criminalize entrepreneurship. Actually in some countries and institutions we still need to work towards giving people freedom to operate.

The good news is that entrepreneurship has really taken off. From being a social movement that was starting a few years ago, it is all the rage. From a personal point of view this has taken me to Colombia, Belgium, Austria, India, Finland just this year. And the environment in UK has become ever more exciting.

The driver for entrepreneurship has come, not from Universities, government initiatives and so forth, but from the open source nature of the Internet. Mobile phones, apps and the Internet has turbocharged new venture creation and as a side effect it has also created new jobs and new types of jobs. So a new vision was needed and this is about unlocking potential rather than spreading the spirit and hence the change as I returned to Cranfield.

What does all this mean to education for entrepreneurs?

To start with I am not sure that the books, papers, curricula are fit for purpose. The educator profession still uses tools developed by Porter, consider writing business plans, teaching the marketing mix and old style team building techniques including using psychometric tools such as Belbin team roles.

While Universities draw on standard texts, consultants have developed tools like the business model canvas which focuses on markets and resources, along with ideas of lean startups as a mindset. Are these toolsets appropriate for all types of new ventures? Probably not.

Business Schools have been around for a century now and have provided a huge alumni base, people with knowledge and know-how for building and managing businesses. Some of what they have learnt may be dated, but none the less the alumni of Business Schools are a talent source. Meanwhile, as the new wave of entrepreneurs have developed into wealthy investors in the shape of business angles, they bring with them tacit knowledge, networks, motivation, wisdom and hands-on skills.

What this means is that entrepreneurship educators need to find a way to draw on this breadth and depth of knowledge and create portfolios of tool sets that meet the needs of individuals.

In the same way that healthcare is seeking personalized medicine, educators need to find ways of drawing on the plethora of tools, sources, resources, networks to provide personalized education, coaching and access to resources for nascent entrepreneurs. This is certainly not easy, but is going to be essential if we want diversity of new ventures.

We will also need to question the purpose and efficacy of incubators and accelerators that are focused on narrow technologies, such as games, Cleantech and so forth. On the one hand they provide domain expertise and each domain has sufficient breadth to enable entrepreneurs to build on the diversity. On the other hand it may cause parochialism in each cohort of entrepreneurs and the social capital of the leaders of the incubators may also narrow down too quickly to be helpful.

New venture creation is largely at the fuzzy front end of business development and we need to think about how to nurture new ventures on as broad a basis as possible, avoiding the temptation of narrowing entrepreneurs down too quickly with the use of narrowing tool sets.

This blog has out the challenges and not necessarily the solutions! I would like to invite my fellow educators to think about the challenges and put forward their ideas and solutions so we can develop education that is fit for the next wave of millennial entrepreneurs.

Monday, 17 March 2014

To mooc or not to mooc – that was the question

When, puzzled about the value of MOOCs, I carried out a very simple experiment – by enrolling on a MOOC in my capacity both as academic and entrepreneur..

What I now think of as ‘My MOOC’ is an experience that has transformed the way I think about online learning and given me huge insight into the experience of my students. But before I declare myself a convert or a malcontent, I should start with a bit of background.
I head up the Centre for Entrepreneurial at Cambridge Judge Business School and our emerging flagship course is the Post-graduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship ( The PGDE is the only one of its kind (the old adage that you can’t teach entrepreneurship is still alive and well) because we firmly believe that excellent entrepreneurial skills can, and should, be learnt in the academic environment. This kind of learning (in the main, we use entrepreneurs to teach entrepreneurs) can help new venturers to avoid a lot of mistakes, as well as helping established entrepreneurs to turn around or enhance their existing business.
As our clientele for this course are necessarily an international bunch, we offer most of the Cambridge PGDE programme online, to allow them to do it from wherever they are in the world and to continue to run their business while they study. Since I did my own education long before all this sophisticated online learning, I have often pondered what the experience is like – especially for a busy entrepreneur (as I have been myself). When MOOCs came along, I pondered even more about the efficacy of online learning until at last, looking for something to do during a recent sabbatical, I decided to find out what all the fuss is about and enrolled on one myself.
At first, enticed by the thought of performing really well on something I knew lots about, I considered the range of excellent courses on offer from big US Universities on topics like innovation, entrepreneurship, strategy and leadership. But then it occurred to me that my experiment really called for me to go out on a limb and try a subject completely foreign to me. Why? Because if you are a manager or a technology specialist or a member of a family business – what must it feel like to enrol on a course on entrepreneurship? As there is only this one PGDE on offer – it must feel entirely alien at first to the people enrolling on it from around the globe.  So I chose something that felt alien to me – a 6 week MOOC from the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham - on Hamlet! It’s on the platform.
To the extreme hilarity of my children, who instantly offered me Letts notes and patronised me mercilessly with offers of help, I embarked on something I had never read and which is positioned in the minds of most non-arts people as a secondary school bit of torture.  I dutifully prepared by buying the play and reading it – when the ensuing headache would let me!  Hamlet is one of the longest plays and getting into it was tough.  However, Week 1 on my MOOC passed with great excitement until I reached the first multiple-choice quiz.
This was a terrifying moment when I realised that I absolutely had to get it right or crash and burn in front of my hawk-eyed offspring, who were circling like cute vultures, waiting for me to fail. Luckily, I managed a five out of five for the test and progressed into the following weeks. More and more drawn in, I threw away the aspirin and learnt, enthralled, about the play, its context, the actors, nuances of interpretation, the never-ending centuries’ old debates about Hamlet and his motives. I especially enjoyed how it it took me off on fascinating tangents, like diving into Youtube where there are some wonderful ‘to be or not to be’ speeches.
The most serious challenge posed along the way was a peer reviewed 500-word article.  It took a while to break through the blank page on a subject I had never written on, but the ‘peers’ were gentle on me and it proved one of the most rewarding things I did. The many quizzes were easy enough – but I needed the multiple attempts the programme offered!
 What did I take away from the MOOC?  It was like opening presents at Christmas as each module unfolded and I educated myself about a fascinating subject far from my usual sphere. This is one of the nice things about online learning – the sense of achievement as you effectively motivate and educate yourself. It also gave me a whole new topic for dinner conversations!
As for MOOCs – their time has come and academic Institutions had better embrace them.  We are still on a hype cycle with MOOCs and their demise is already being predicted, with articles about how severe the drop-out rate is. I don’t know what the drop-out rate was on my Hamlet MOOC – But I know I’m sold. The key things I loved were the fabulous content with excellent delivery; the easy navigation; the good quality discussions on the platform – i.e. a good peer group - and, at 6 weeks, it was just the right length.
Downsides? There is still work to be done on the discussion forum. I am not convinced that the current platform makes this easy; you have to scroll through hundreds of participants or you end up only seeing the top 5- 10 posts and might miss an excellent post that’s too far down. Some of the quiz questions and the written assignment came as surprises – there were a few complaints about that. But, even with glitches, it was already hundreds of times better than not having access to some of the top people on Shakespeare, helping you to navigate a course on Hamlet, and without having to go anywhere or do anything other than sit in my lounge in my slippers. 
And so the moral of the story is – MOOCs work if they offer excellent, well-considered content, access to some of the top minds on the subject, a high quality peer group and a well-designed platform. If these fundamentals are in place, students will forgive stray errors. Perhaps in the end in was no surprise to find that, no matter what the delivery mechanism - whether it’s books or MOOCs -  content is still king. After all, it’s what has been keeping a weird play about a neurotic Prince set in Denmark consistently in the top most read and watched for four centuries.
That Will Shakespeare – he knew a thing or two about keeping an audience on line.