Can Entrepreneurship Education Keep Up with Entrepreneurship?

That was the title of a panel-based session I participated in yesterday at the annual conference of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship. Along with my co-panelists – Troy Henikoff of Excelerate Labs, Ameet Mehta of Azadi Pads, and Chris Motley of Better Weekdays – we explored the following questions in a spirited discussion with the audience.

  1. How relevant are today’s entrepreneurship programs and curricula?
  2. Has the practice of entrepreneurship sped past the teaching of it?
  3. As educators and institutions, are we stuck in the past?
  4. How much do business plans (and competitions) matter today?
  5. What can “old school” entrepreneurs teach the new generation?
  6. How will the “tsunami” of education reform affect entrepreneurship?

These are ideas for which I have developed very strong convictions. From my decade-long experience at DePaul University, which has a legacy in entrepreneurship education, I’ve witnessed first-hand the progress and development of an individual program. Along the way, I became keenly aware of (and sometimes obsessed with) seeing how other programs were, or were not, developing.

By mashing up those factors with the innumerable trends and developments impacting startups in recent years (flatter world, social networking, great recession, mobile devices, sharing economy, lean startup, accelerators, etc.), I’ve reached a point where I believe entrepreneurship education has fallen behind the “real world”.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to dive into the questions above through a series of posts. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what you think given your own experiences as entrepreneurship students, alumni, or faculty, and especially your experiences as entrepreneurs.

3 comments

  1. Chris Schmitt

    I am very interested to see how your series develops. I have two thoughts for you about your points.

    In response to your second point: “Has the practice of entrepreneurship sped past the teaching of it?”

    I think it has. In my 1993 entrepreneurship class we focused on case studies, business plans and mostly theory. With startup costs dramatically dropping and the tools that are now available to entrepreneurs I think that all entrepreneurship classes should be accompanied by the praticale nature of starting a business. As steve blank famously say, you should always “get out of the building”. The hardest part of starting something is actually starting it. I think that students should experience the ups and downs of going through the process in a controlled way. I wish I had the support of mentors and peer groups when I was struggling with my first startup.

    In response to your 4th bullet point: “How much do business plans (and competitions) matter today?”

    I think it ultimatly depends on the type of business that your students are looking to startup. For students looking at large ventures that would require VC or Angel money then having them do a business plan would be great. But for students looking to bootstrap I think that there should be more emphasis on hitting the ground running.

    Side thought: I think it would be cool to split the class up in the beginning. For the people who learn better by doing, have them dive right in and figure it out. For the people who learn better through research it would be good for them to make the business plans. Then it would be fun to switch the groups after 3-4 weeks. Have the business planers try to execute and have the executers try to write the plan about how they should move forward. I think both groups would find that very challenging.

    • Raman Chadha

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments and experiences, Chris. I’m smiling at your first response because I turned my business plan development course this term into a business model development one. The students have heard “get out of the building” a thousand times, have actually done it, and have entrepreneurs as mentors along the way. Thanks for validating the approach.

      I’m intrigued by your side thought…thanks for the idea!

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