From discussion, entrepreneurship seemingly means different things to different people. The practical elements of how to start and run a business can be taught, indeed I see this very often in UK Universities, and I should add taught well. However, with a fundamental ability of the successful entrepreneur being the skill to ‘recognise opportunity’, can this be taught within a formal education setting?
Entrepreneurs are those individuals with the ability to change or take advantage of the market’s behaviours, they can disrupt the norm and create value from their endeavours. Where successful entrepreneurs find their position depends if they embark on an idea which involves radical change or one which develops moderate improvements and marginal change. The key to success for both however, is the ability to take opportunities, which those around them don’t see.
Is it possible to teach somebody to see an opportunity? If we can, the more formal aspects of starting a business teaching will surely be more successful and useful long term. The formal aspects of starting a business is one which many Entrepreneurship courses I have observed have placed great emphasis, the production of a business plan or business canvas, market research, financing the venture and so on. However, it’s that early and crucial aspect of opportunity recognition that is perhaps less developed.
Without the knowledge to recognise opportunity the formal aspects of business start up become less useful. A student group may be able to produce a wonderful report or business presentation however would have little chance of bringing the idea to life without that ability to realise ‘when the time is right’.
This is where the teaching of entrepreneurship becomes very difficult to get right. How do we get student groups to creatively recognise opportunities, how do we enable them to improve their Entrepreneurial Instinct (EI)? I think and speaking with academics this requires the development of critical thinking techniques and student’s ability to be alert to their wider commercial environment, it is this which will allow students to be ready when opportunities arise.
So, in practice how have I seen this done? The process of allowing student groups to develop the skills described often takes place with groups forming small start-ups under the protection of the University. Whilst not a fully formed operational ‘real’ business, the premise is that business does begin, albeit in somewhat of a protective bubble. By engaging student groups with real life problems faced by other organisations they begin to understand from a commercial perspective how their business must operate in order to be a real-life success. What are the margins, what are the challenges, how do I make my business commercially successful to operate in the future? How do I recognise those opportunities and know when it’s time to act?
We should allow students to develop by asking questions of why something has been done the way it has, or how could we do this differently, creative thinking should be an important aspect of any Entrepreneurial Programme. We must ‘allow’ students to fail as this replicates the real world, and in doing so increases a student’s ability to be resilient to failure, and not fearful of it. It also should be said that honesty is important, some ideas are just bad ideas, outside of the bubble they could cost somebody to lose a great deal of time and money, if that’s the case we as educators have a duty to say this, and not be afraid to do so, its part of the education we provide.
Experiential leaning is vital to allow students to develop their EI. Are there any other ways to develop an instinct without running a venture?
If you would like to read some more about EI take a look at: The Entrepreneurial Instinct by Monica Mehta.
You can also watch a short video below about how Rich Schefren describes ways to boost EI.