Experience over education
Professor of entrepreneurship at Lancaster University Management School
With a 700,000 increase in self-employment since 2008, the UK is rapidly becoming a nation of entrepreneurs, as opposed to shopkeepers. Indeed, freelancing is becoming mainstream and being driven on by the uber-economy. This growth in entrepreneurship has also given rise to 5 million small businesses who in turn now employ over 12 million people (33% of the workforce) and are often seen as the bedrock of an entrepreneurial economy. For many a portfolio career also includes a period of entrepreneurship. The UK Government’s 2014 Enterprise for All report stressed the need to “create lifelong experience of enterprise in education” from primary school to university and beyond.
But can you really teach entrepreneurship?
Well, according to Enterprise Educators UK, it’s a resounding YES. But, then again they would say this, they are the UK’s largest network for enterprise educators representing more than 600 enterprise education professionals. Their purpose is to support their members to “increase the scale, scope and effectiveness of enterprise and entrepreneurship teaching within their organisations.”
Again, Babson College in the US, probably the world’s leading proponent of entrepreneurship education, says YES! In fact, they have made a business out of educating the enterprise educators! They provide annual Symposia for Entrepreneurship Educators which now has over 1,500 alumni of educators worldwide.
My own experience as an entrepreneur and now an academic and educator, confirms a complex mixture of three ingredients, namely i) characteristics people are born with, ii) skills that can be acquired through education and experience and iii) an appreciation of the value of social networking.
Millennials brought up on social media intrinsically appreciate the latter. And, through experiencing enterprise education, whether at school or university, they can tick two of the boxes. Of course, millennial entrepreneurs still need those entrepreneurial characteristics of: need for achievement, over-optimism; propensity for risk-taking; desire for autonomy; locus of control (or belief you have control over your environment) and creativity. Whilst I accept that some people are born with more of these characteristics than others, experience can bring these out in most of us.