Last weekend, I was at the annual conference of the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC). Interestingly, I was a part of two conversations about the value of/emphasis on business plans in entrepreneurship education.
One conversation was with someone from the U. of Arizona who is a part of, if not runs, their tech transfer office and who, admittedly, came from corporate America. In his view, we educators put too much emphasis on business plans and not enough on the actual “doing”, or the commercialization of ideas.
The other conversation was one that I unknowingly started. During one of the sessions in which we were supposed to talk about innovative teaching strategies (but instead got infomercials from three entrepreneurship programs), I asked the question, “What teaching strategies have you used in the classroom that have failed, and why?”
Tom O’Malia from USC said BPs, and that it failed because it wasn’t an effective way to teach students whether their ideas were sound or not. Instead, he believes they should learn feasibility studies rather than BPs. I’ll buy that argument at face value, but not as one to justify not teaching business plans (if anything, feasibility plans should come before business plans, which Tom agreed to during a later conversation I had with him).
That began a spirited debate about how much emphasis our entrepreneurship programs put on business plans and whether we should have BP competitions. One professor mentioned that BPs aren’t something that entrepreneurs typically write. While I would agree with that to an extent, there is also the argument that *when* an entrepreneur writes a business plan, it’s often to raise capital.
In that context, s/he is competing against many other ventures for the attention and money of the investor. Therefore, a BP competition in school may be valuable.
Furthermore, many of us who advocate business plan development like to say that the value is not in the end result or the actual document. It’s in the *planning* process itself. A business plan forces an entrepreneur to think through the many strategic and operational aspects of a venture before actually making the enormous investment in time and money to launch it. The value is the planning, not the plan.
Beyond that, and possibly most important, is the feedback we get from students about business plan competitions:
- they get the motivation and structure to write one
- they get tremendous value from the judges’ feedback
- the competitions provide priceless networking opportunities
- they flat out *learn* something
After all, isn’t that what our job is, as educators? Not to teach, but to get students to learn? Who cares what we think (as supposed experts) if the students get that outcome?
What do you think? What is the value of business plans in the context of entrepreneurship education? Why or why shouldn’t we teach them? What is the value of business plan competitions?