Entrepreneurship education on university and colleges campuses is everywhere. You would be hard-pressed to find a business school not offering a collection of entrepreneurship courses today.
Even more exciting is the growing number of courses offered outside of business schools in colleges of music, engineering, law, medicine, nursing just to name a few. For almost 10 years, I have led Babson’s Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE) designed to help teachers from around the world elevate their craft of teaching entrepreneurship. There are plenty of challenges of entrepreneurship teaching that can face these business schools and beyond.
I’ve seen many types of entrepreneurship educators. The second chapter educator who sold one or more businesses and now wants to teach. The career business academic who is awarded more for research than inspired teaching. The pracademic who has a PhD but also has the requisite startup and business experience that students love. The OMG educator who was told by someone higher up in the university that they must build an entrepreneurship center, develop a major or minor, or teach an entrepreneurship class for the first time and they have no idea how to start.
I’ve talked to, and been inspired by, educators across all types. They share a common and contagious enthusiasm for entrepreneurship education. They also share some common worries due to the general difficulties that come with teaching entrepreneurship.
There are many challenges entrepreneurs can face such as adapting to change in all aspects of their business and dealing with high levels of stress. It is important here at Babson that we address these challenges of entrepreneurship head on as part of the entrepreneurship curriculum.
When it comes to entrepreneurship barriers, I asked all SEE program participants about the greatest challenges they face teaching entrepreneurship. Many patterns have emerged across the responses during the past few years, which allowed me to create this top five list. In honor of David Letterman (I’m a super fan!), I’ll start with number five.
A large component of entrepreneurship education is about developing an entrepreneurial mindset. This is extremely hard to measure. My take: Folks are working on this but just because we can’t measure something doesn’t mean we should avoid it! Get creative about what success means for your experience and breakdown that entrepreneurship barrier.
Some educators just won’t let go of the business plan as the gold pedagogical standard. My take: The debate should be over because the business plan no longer takes center stage. It was the gold standard only because it’s gradable. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: just about everything important comes before ever writing a business plan.
Some educators think there should be standards for teaching entrepreneurship. My take: I hope we never get to a “one best way” approach because then we all have to worry about compliance. I’ve never met an awesome teacher or seen a bold program that complied their way to greatness.
Should all executive entrepreneurship educators be entrepreneurs? My take: In an ideal world, yes, but there is something to be said about diversity in experience and viewpoints and this really isn’t practical given the proliferation of courses and need for all types of educators in this space. Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots and considered one of the greatest coaches ever, was a better lacrosse player than a football player. As a college student at Wesleyan University, he played tight end and center for the football team, but truly shined on the lacrosse team, where he was captain senior year. Just like Belichick and his football coaching legacy, non-hands-on entrepreneurs can also make for good entrepreneurship educators with their experiences.
It can be a challenge to move away from lectures and embrace action-based learning. My take: This is the number one challenge in entrepreneurship education. In order to learn entrepreneurship, one must practice and do entrepreneurship. Students should not sit through a semester of guest speakers, case studies, and PowerPoint lectures. The outcome for the students will simply be an increase in their ability to multitask because they will become extremely adept at being in the classroom, on their phone, and on their laptop—all at the same time. Educators need to teach in bold and entrepreneurial ways and model the behavior they want to see in their students.
In higher education, teaching entrepreneurship is not about the content. Content is important but it’s also free and pervasive online. So what’s our role as educators of entrepreneurial thought?
Consider an analogy. If I want to find the lyrics to my favorite song (Stevie Nicks’ Landslide!), Google can tell me in seconds. But just because I have the lyrics doesn’t mean I can actually sing the song. Trust me when I say I cannot sing the song! If we really want to teach entrepreneurship then we need to help students sing!
So that’s it—the top five difficulties of teaching entrepreneurship. But, we can’t end yet. In the spirit of being entrepreneurial, these challenges are huge
opportunities that we can entrepreneur (yes, I intended to use it as a verb) our way through and move the needle forward. Teaching entrepreneurship is awesome! Enjoy the journey.
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