Entrepreneurship education and training (EET) is growing rapidly in universities and colleges in Canada and throughout the world. This trend is fuelled, in part, by recognition that entrepreneurship can play an important role in economic growth and claims that entrepreneurship education can play an important role in developing more and/or better entrepreneurs. As chair in entrepreneurial leadership at McMaster, I am frequently searching for opportunities to advance the field of entrepreneurship education.
People often ask me if I think entrepreneurship can be taught. My stock reaction is to say ‘no’. It can’t be taught in the sense that everyone is a potential entrepreneur. However, I do believe that certain skills can be taught that develop that potential into a more effective entrepreneur. I also believe that individuals can be taught how to support an entrepreneur or a start-up business. In that way, even people who do not have the inclination to take major career risks can learn how to help those who do. Just as not everyone can learn to be a great artist, musician or dancer, not everyone can learn to be an entrepreneur. However, there are many supporting careers that are connected with those professions – and those activities can be taught. While I might not have enough talent to make great music, I should be able to learn the necessary skills to help market and ‘sell’ a great musician. Thus, there are many reasons to support and develop effective entrepreneurship education.
While courses in entrepreneurship continue to be popular, the lesson and theory behind entrepreneurship education lacks enthusiasm. For example, most entrepreneurship courses rely on the teaching and development of a business plan. The goals of business planning education, however, remain poorly understood.
Recently I was pleased to be awarded a $350,000 five year SSHRC grant to study the impact of entrepreneurship education world-wide (along with my co-investigator, a former graduate of McMaster, Jeff McNally at UNB). The research of business planning, some of which I have conducted, leads to question whether business plans lead to entrepreneurial success. There is a huge range of topics commonly taught through case studies, readings, lectures by guest speakers, and skill building courses. Topics include negotiation, leadership, new product development, creative thinking, venture capital, entrepreneurial personalities, student business start-ups, computer simulations, interviews with entrepreneurs, field trips, and video and film. Each topic requires a specific measurable output and corresponding education, which should vary considerably depending on the circumstances. However, these have not been examined in the literature. With all these activities to consider, we believe our research will help identify what works best, and what are some of the best ways to share important entrepreneurial information.
One new approach we’ve begun to focus on includes issues related to career guidance and career satisfaction. Entrepreneurship is certainly not for everyone. However, taking an entrepreneurship course helps individuals expand their range of possible career options. I’ve found that my course provides individuals with guidance and information that helps them make future career decisions. Learning that entrepreneurship is not a viable alternative given one’s personality, skills, or life goals is yet another important awareness to be gained from a successful entrepreneurship course.
We’re very excited by the opportunity SSHRC has provided us to study, over time and systematically, entrepreneurship education. Our goal is to help other lecturers, community programs, and instructors develop and refine effective programs. I look forward to sharing our results with this community as they unfold over the subsequent years of study.
Benson Honig is the Teresa Cascioli Chair in Entrepreneurial Leadership and a professor of human resources & management. He is lead editor of the handbook of organizational and entrepreneurial ingenuity, Edward Elgar press, due for release in February 2014.