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.


Unknown said...

Hi Shai,

I agree with the thrust of the arguments in your excellent blog and I know that there are many forward thinking Enterprise Educators around the world whom I know are thinking along the same or similar lines.

I have been running the world's first undergraduate Venture Creation Programme at the University of Buckingham for about 8 years. Although I am in the Business School I don't follow traditional Business teaching methods. For example I use Business Model Canvas and other non-traditional methods.

I would like to invite you to Buckingham to meet my BSc Business Enterprise students and me so you can see how we approach Entrepreneurship Education in the 21st Century.

I will call you on Monday.

Nigel Adams
Programme Director BSc Business Enterprise
University e-mail:

Aljai said...

Hi Shai,

As a past, fellow Trustee on GEN Initiative I just want to say that I am amazed at your passion for your field and energy level too! On my return to the UK from Pakistan I would like to chat with you about enterprise development in Pakistan.....something I have been working on with a World Bank grant for an artisan's livelihood project. Hope we can meet soon.


Moyna Aicken