Students Can Learn Entrepreneurship Skills
March 26th, 2012 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal proclaimed that “across the country, schools are rushing to introduce entrepreneurship classes,” and “self-help books for business founders are topping the best-seller lists.” This may be a sign of economic growth or a matter of necessity as many people try to find gainful employment during an economically challenging time. Is it possible that courses and degrees related to entrepreneurial skills will provide an answer to the question of value for higher education, during a time when student loan debt is at an all-time high? Is there a promising career outlook for students who are aspiring entrepreneurs?
What is an Entrepreneur?
Inc.com answered this question by using a quote from Harvard Business School instructor Howard Stevenson, who defined it 37 years ago as follows: “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” In other words, it’s a process of discerning possibilities and making quick decisions. In contrast, entrepreneurial skills are often thought of from the perspective of starting and running a business. Andrew B. Hargadon, professor of management and faculty director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of California at Davis, believes that Stevenson's definition is not complete, adding that “the attributes that make for successful entrepreneurs apply in many careers and settings—whether taking a company in a new direction, starting a nonprofit venture, or developing a new research program—and are more valuable than ever before.”
Jerry Kaplan, author of Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure, shares his perspective in the following video, What are the Best Qualities of Successful Entrepreneurs?
According to Kaplan some of the qualities of successful entrepreneurs include: a belief that they can make a difference, a passion for making things happen (they don't just sit around talking and instead, make it happen), and possession of an unjustifiable optimism or belief they can succeed even if evidence proving the contrary exists. Kaplan encourages students as aspiring entrepreneurs to “do something with your education.” This emphasizes the importance of not only having the characteristics but also being able to apply them.
Learning Entrepreneurial Skills
The next question to consider: can students learn the entrepreneurial skills needed to cultivate these qualities and be successful?
Zogby/463, a poll commissioned by Cogswell College, surveyed 2,141 adults during May 2011 and found that 79 percent of the participants stated “that having entrepreneurial skills is important for graduates to land a job.” The Zogby/463 survey also revealed that 73 percent believed “that the best way for students to acquire entrepreneurial skills is to intern with a start-up or launch a new business while still in college,” and “most also agreed that students who are properly equipped to start and manage businesses will be better positioned to create new opportunities and jobs once they graduate.”
The Wall Street Journal article Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?, shares two perspectives for educators to consider:
• “M.B.A. training helps you learn to allocate resources and calculate risk, which are skills that can be quantified and taught. The life skills needed for entrepreneurship can't be.
• We can't teach entrepreneurship in the traditional sense. But we should come up with ways to help entrepreneurs help themselves to learn more effectively. This means finding ways to provide them with a network of mentors and advisers and nurturing a business culture around them that says: dream big, open doors and listen to new people, trust and be trusted, experiment, make mistakes, treat others fairly and pay it forward.”
Professor Andrew B. Hargadon states in 7 Ways to Make Students More Entrepreneurial that “entrepreneurs face more options than people in more traditional work,” and follows that up by stating “colleges should teach students that, to get anything done, they must develop goals that drive their decisions and avoid distractions.”
These three perspectives indicate that some entrepreneurial skills can be learned within an academic environment and others can only be learned from real world experience.
The Academic Solution
Entrepreneur Magazine posed the following question in the article Startup or Start School? The Degree Debate: “Is it better to get a degree and then start a business, or does it make more sense to forego college in favor of entrepreneurship?” The entrepreneurial-related experiences of going to college include networking or making connections and maintaining personal responsibility, which includes time management, completing assigned tasks, and meeting deadlines. It is noted that you won’t learn everything necessary to become an entrepreneur; however, you have an opportunity to learn valuable skills such as sales and negotiations. In addition, a degree is likely to establish a “level of credibility” that will be needed as you work with financial aspects of the business, including potential investors.
Many entrepreneurial-focused degree programs include classes in accounting, economics, communication, business management, business law, and other topics that are essential to operating a successful company. The following are two examples of entrepreneurial-focused degree programs that can be obtained on-ground and online:
• Rasmussen College: Business Management Associate's degree – Entrepreneurship specialization, with coursework focused on “developing your fundamental business knowledge so you can manage, operate, and grow a successful business. You will develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that you can apply to your niche market.” Rasmussen also offers an “employer-based internship program.”
• Capella University: Within the School of Business and Technology there is an Entrepreneurship specialization for the MBA program that “provides a foundation in financial accounting, global marketing, operations management, data analysis, and other key disciplines needed to achieve business success.” Their website further indicates that “people who choose this specialization may include current or potential entrepreneurs, new business development managers within an existing business, and business consultants who advise entrepreneurs.”
The Occupational Outlook
As noted by USA Today in 2012 job market brightens, but unemployment won't fall fast, “driving the improvement in overall job growth is a pickup in hiring and confidence among small businesses as banks modestly ease credit standards.” It also indicates that small businesses (especially new businesses) usually make up “two-thirds of the new jobs created in a recovery.” This is a good sign for students who aspire to become entrepreneurs and likely explains why schools are offering courses and degrees related to this field of study.
A word of caution should also be noted for students who are considering the path of an entrepreneur. In the government report The State of Small Businesses Post Great Recession, An Analysis of Small Businesses between 2007 and 2011, there are “23 million small businesses that employ nearly 81 million workers and produce annual sales in excess of $6 trillion;” however, “despite these positive trends, small business failure rates have increased by 40% from 2007 to 2010.”
Before you decide to pursue a degree or coursework related entrepreneurial endeavors, be certain that you understand what skill sets the academic program will provide you and consider if it aligns with your career goals. Request a meeting and talk to entrepreneurs who are running businesses in your area of interest about the requirements and challenges they’ve encountered. In addition, consult with your school’s career counselors before making a financial commitment to determine what your career options may include. This is not a guaranteed career path but one that will require determination, perseverance, knowledge, and real-world experience to be successful.
Are you considering an entrepreneurial career? Share your aspirations via Twitter @DrBruceJ.
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