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Can entrepreneurship be taught?

Many universities across the U.S. have started offering an entrepreneurship major/minor. The theme I hear from most entrepreneurs is that you really learn as you go. And if these skills can't be learned, then what is the value of these programs?

37 Replies

Varun Mehta
3
0
Varun Mehta Entrepreneur
CEO of Disqovery
"Learn by doing," right?

During my MBA at HBS both the required and elective classes had some entrepreneurial elements to them. There were a few things that we did:
  • We read cases about startup founders, highlighting specific interpersonal and business challenges that they faced and how they faced them.
  • We learned about both what entrepreneurs have in common with each other, and we learned how entrepreneurship comes in many different forms.
  • We were put into teams with decent startup capital and given the task of forming revenue-generating businesses by the end of the semester.
What is the value? For some it was a way to try working in an ambiguous, powerless environment while still being safe (i.e. still in school). For others it was a way to find likeminded individuals and begin building teams or support networks. And for people like me, it was inspiration to try it all for real and begin incubating a startup.

If you want more details on these things, I'm happy to provide it.
Gil Allouche
1
1
Gil Allouche Entrepreneur
Founder @ Metadata
It's 100% learn as you go, but sometimes its nice not to make "all the possible mistakes" an entrepreneur can make. I did my MBA at Babson College, and one thing about that school was pretty famazing - which is learning from the failures (50%) and success (50%) of real-time, scrappy entrepreneurs who gave us the 'real story' vs. romantic retroactive legend of how their startup became a hit. Knowing what I know today -- when someone wants to start their entrepreneurship journey -- I recommend them to start the work and join one of the million accelerators that are available today. It's a nice forcing factor and usually you can learn in 3-4 months what a school won't be able to teach you in 2-4 years. Gil | founder at metadata.io
Peter Kestenbaum
0
0
Peter Kestenbaum Entrepreneur
Advisor, Investor, Mentor to Emerging firms
Depends on the program... There are some great programs that span two or three courses and folks come out of them building companies... Montclair State in NJ just had their demo day ( with a 10,000 prize to the winning company )... Some (not all) pitches and concepts were better than many I see as an angel investor. There were 10 teams presenting... Many had customers and in MVP mode... (google Montclair Feliciano center )
Patrick Larsen
5
0
Patrick Larsen Advisor
Defense Technology Startup and Helping Veterans, LION
I think this is a total misnomer.
Everything is taught. Entrepreneurship is taught. So is art, music, sports, soft skills.
Some people are autodidacts- they learn from doing and they learn early so it appears that they were "born" with it but if you took 3 yr old Steve Jobs and put him on a desert island- he wouldn't have become the greatest pitch man of all time.
Most top MBA programs have excellent entrepreneurship programs.
You can learn so much online from a staggering large number of sites.

You can learn from mentors, competitors, your employees. From books, videos, walking down the street. You can learn and be taught and you can teach entrepreneurship.
This is the Growth mentality. See the book "Mindset" by Carol Dweck.http://amzn.com/[removed to protect privacy]

People think you have to be a natural because people are afraid of failure, afraid of commitment and being in it for the long run regardless of how many setback and disappointments you might have. They are afraid to try and get confirmation that they weren't good enough (but really- they just weren't good enough right then- given all the conditions of the world to include luck).

The problem with MBA programs is they saddle you with debt. This does two things.
1. It gives you an easy road to a corporate career. They accounting and finance you learned is applicable to a company with profits, stable cash flows, known fixed costs, accurate forecasting...That's not a startup.
2. It saddles you with debt (generally). That makes taking a risk much, much more scary. It also means that if you fail once- you probably need to get a job- instead of living on someone's couch and continuing to try, fail, learn, iterate. You can't default on this debt. I suggest moving to Thailand or Vietnam and pursuing your business passions.

So, absolutely you can learn Entrepreneurship in a formal setting. An MBA allows you to raise money. It earns people's trust. It gives you rigorous, critical thinking skills and the ability to plan.

Everything is a sample size of one. It doesn't matter if an MBA is good for others or not. Is it good for you? Is the school right? The path right? The time right? Your head right? Your motivation right? Will you keep trying? If so, you'll make it and you'll be able to point back at all the things you learned from your MBA that helped you- or your mentors, competition, books, etc.

Good luck. Commit to climbing the mountain. It's steep, but the view is worth it.
Robert L. Eikelboom
1
0
Robert L. Eikelboom Entrepreneur
Empowering the Powerless
The great advantage of Universities is that they offer their students a theoretical overview of 'all' the elements involved in entrepreneurship. That is an important framework for everybody to order your own ideas. It is not decisive for success. But then again no individual element is. As long as people realize there are no fixed rules, no specific traits, or secret methods. What worked for Jobs might not work for Gadella or you. Universities should go on teaching. You and me should keep on grinding it till a moment of luck breaks open the market in a big way.
Peter Kestenbaum
2
0
Peter Kestenbaum Entrepreneur
Advisor, Investor, Mentor to Emerging firms
Grinding has its value but to be a bit controversial many of the questions you see on this forum would never come from some of the kids we work with.. for example funding questions today... how do I find angels, what do I tell them, what will my terms look like, what do they look for before they will fund me (or 8 or 10 different profile companies ), what is the minimum I need to have for them given the profile I have... you get exposed to that... not only from folks who "teach" but from a parade of angels that get brought in to guest lecture... same for many other disciplines...start up lawyers, local successful founders who exited and so on... but it takes 3 or 4 semesters... . agree on the cost of an MBA.... the entrepreneurship programs are sometimes separate certificate programs so you paying for 9 or 12 credits.. but again the school has to have a very specific program.... its alot less academic but very hands on and experiential
Dale Lampson
1
1
Dale Lampson Advisor
Product Management at Fitbit
Sure. But that's not to say any one person can be taught to be a serial entrepreneur. I think DNA (as expressed through personality, comfort zone and motivation) plays a big role. Such is not taught.

But DNA aside, teach people how to dream. How to think unfettered. I've been involved in high school programs that get teenagers thinking about how to create things--way before they go to college, get their first jobs, and have drilled into them how complicated and difficult is the "modern" world. Maybe there's a reason Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs never found Institutions of Higher Ignorance particularly helpful. Entrepreneurs break molds--they don't conform to them.

Define entrepreneurship broadly. I think entrepreneurship on this forum just defaults to thinking "tech start-up". My dentist is an entrepreneur. 10 years ago he had an in-practice milling machine to create ceramic crowns. It allowed him to shorten the treatment window from days to hours.

Kim Ki-hoon is an entrepreneur who makes more than 99% of start-up software entrepreneurs--teaching English of all things. He didn't start out to be one, but he wanted to deliver more value in less time (creative thinking). And he wanted to make more money (motivation). So showing want-a-be entrepreneurs techniques for thinking about value delivery--unconstrained by today's methods, technology, etc.--can help spring the closet entrepreneur loose.


Paul Kasinski
0
1
Paul Kasinski Advisor
Executive Vice President & Chief Technology Officer at Sky Zone Franchise Group
Great question, firstly, the life of an entrepreneur is a lifestyle choice not a career choice. And, without question it is learn as you go, and a successful entrepreneur would likely never be built in a classroom. That said, I think these programs could be very valuable for the right person. If the program is geared to prepare students for the first few years out of college, maybe not so much. But if it exposes the student to the skills they'll leverage 5 plus years out then maybe. The most important characteristic of a good program would be showing students what attributes they'll need to build and ultimately drive success. If graduates from the program seek opportunities to round out those skills and thicken their skin, then maybe they'll have what it takes a few years down the road to be a contributor in a start-up or entrepreneurial organization.
Julien Fruchier
3
0
Julien Fruchier Entrepreneur
Founder at Republic of Change
Both my parents are business owners. Doing anything but entrepreneurship makes me feel like a fish out of water. From that standpoint, I'm as "born an entrepreneur" as you can get. Yet...

Before I graduated highschool, I was on my third business and had decided not to go to school. After a year and a half, I realized that the right program could accelerate my understanding of business. I did a 4-year program in 2 years and I'm glad I did. I don't remember much about what I learned but I came out of it with a much broader perspective and it was helpful during my formative years as an entrepreneur.

To answer your question, I'm glad I did school and I did learn about business but entrepreneurship is all about hustle. It requires discipline, creativity, being okay flying without a safety net and working hard with zero guarantees that you'll ever see the fruits of your labor. That can't be taught in school. You get that from your family, from self experimentation and from the lessons of other entrepreneurs.
Michael Barnathan
0
0
Michael Barnathan Entrepreneur • Advisor
Co-Founder of The Mountaintop Program, Google Alum
To guide you as you go, of course.
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