What is the future of entrepreneurship education?
The world has changed in ways that now require all of us to think like entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs are resilient and resourceful. They are creative and critical thinkers who can recognize opportunities, mobilize resources, and make things happen when the rules are not clear and the path is not well defined. Simply put, they possess the personality traits and learned skills the world now demands. They are the pioneers of innovation and progress on a global scale.
Academic, business, government, and nonprofit leaders around the world have begun to recognize teaching entrepreneurial skills and leveraging learners’ entrepreneurial personality traits as essential for creating the societies of the future. As one report published by the World Economic Forum stated, “It is not enough to add entrepreneurship on the perimeter – it needs to be at the core of the way education operates.”
The positive economic impact of entrepreneurship is well understood, yet how people develop and leverage an entrepreneurial mindset is an area that must be explored further. If we dedicate more resources to understanding the underlying causes of this mindset, we can unlock a new era where entrepreneurial thinking can be applied across sectors, organizations, and borders to bring about advances toward a better future.
The academic world knows that entrepreneurship education is important. Initiatives have exploded in recent years, from college and university programs to government-sponsored and nonprofit initiatives. We’ve seen incredible growth of innovation labs, bootcamps, incubators, accelerators, and academic programs that teach the “how” of entrepreneurship. The next step must be to understand “why” entrepreneurial thinking is crucial for the future, so more curious minds can be encouraged to use it as a framework for creating change.
Traditionally, the subject of entrepreneurship is thought of as a business discipline. After all, the term “entrepreneur” is typically used to describe a person who organizes and operates a business. As such, many existing programs are designed to focus on new venture creation and do not recognize the broader application of the entrepreneurial mindset as a teachable framework for thinking beyond the traditional business realm.
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If we are to shift entrepreneurial thinking to the core of how we teach, we must begin by redefining the term “entrepreneurship” in a way that everyone can embrace in their daily lives, even if they have not started a business.
Some first principles to consider when re-framing entrepreneurial education:
Entrepreneurial mindset is not the same as a management mindset. The attitudes and skills required to build useful products and services are distinct from those required to maintain those same things. While not every person may have a desire to start a business, many do want to create initiatives that build towards a greater purpose—even within larger organizations. A 2021 McKinsey report states that 62% of employees wanted to get even more purpose from the work that they are doing. When building a new product or service, or attempting to reach a new customer segment, entrepreneurial thinking can help anyone to jump-start change. Applying entrepreneurial thinking can also empower collaborators to align their skills and traits to achieve their professional goals with their personal purposes, and to “do good” and “do well” in their career.
Thinking like an entrepreneur is a creative and generative process. At its essence, entrepreneurship is a discovery toolkit; a process by which an individual or small group of individuals search for the intersection of their interests and abilities, and the needs of others. As such, we must redefine entrepreneurship as the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. Anyone can embrace this definition. The question we should all be asking ourselves is, what can allow us to make our talents more useful to more people? How can entrepreneurial thinking become a force for good in the world?
Entrepreneurial thinking will lead us to dream bigger and bolder. The entrepreneurial discovery process requires deep listening, connection, and execution. It does not necessarily need access to venture capital or an MBA. Nor does it require us to quit our job or drop out of school. It requires us to develop a keen sense for an opportunity, and then the willingness to sit down and listen to customers, which includes educators and learners, to solve their problems. If we are to shift entrepreneurship from the perimeter to the core of education, we must empower all to practice entrepreneurship as a problem-solving tool—something that can be applied in any setting—and that can continuously help us to address challenges on a large scale.
Entrepreneurial thinking can be transformative, challenging learners to re-imagine themselves and the world around them in ways that lead to positive lasting change.
If we are to embed entrepreneurship at all levels of education, we must consistently provide all students and educators with opportunities to develop the skills necessary to identify and solve real-world problems within resource-constrained circumstances. Opportunities to figure out how to make themselves useful outside of known systems, with guided pathways, professional teachers, and predictable outcomes. It is only through this process—and within these constraints—that one can truly develop entrepreneurial attitudes and skills.
It is important to focus on encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset as early as possible in education. Organizations like Synthesis, an immersive learning environment that requires students to build critical thinking through simulations, or the project-based learning (PBL) projects funded by the George Lucas Education Foundation through Edutopia, are on the cutting edge of showing us what is possible when we put entrepreneurial skills and traits at the center of education.
But how can we create a learning environment that fosters entrepreneurial thinking?
Create the conditions that are conducive to exploration and growth. If we are to embrace entrepreneurship as an essential life skill, we must also create the conditions that are conducive to the development of entrepreneurial attitudes and skills. Entrepreneurial discovery learning is distinct from traditional learning. You cannot develop entrepreneurial attitudes and skills using traditional teaching methods. Schools like Acton Academy, Blue Valley Schools’ Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), and higher education programs such as the innovative Minerva University are fostering learning environments for entrepreneurial thinking.
Allow children to explore, fail, and learn from failure from a young age. By implementing strategies like allowing students to correct their own exams, teachers encourage students to take ownership over their mistakes—even at young ages. Other strategies such as implementing peer-to-peer feedback loops about group members’ performance in school projects empowers students to understand that their voices and opinions matter. This gives them a healthy environment to grow from their experiences, learn to iterate, and apply a growth mindset to tackling challenges. An environment that permits failure with learning will be conducive to creating entrepreneurial thinkers.
Encourage learners of all ages to work on solving real-world problems. By giving students exposure to real problems and providing a safe environment for them to work on solutions, we encourage them to be solution oriented. Encouraging students to launch a new initiative in their community, fundraise for important scientific research, or engage with the world around them is a great way to empower them as entrepreneurial problem solvers. When given the chance to participate in these programs, formally and informally, we are much more likely to become engaged in our work, to recognize the value of education, to persist in the face of difficulty, and ultimately to thrive.
While not every person wants to start a business, everyone can benefit from entrepreneurial thinking. It can even uniquely position women to advance their careers in purpose-driven sectors, as explored in InnovateHERs: Why Purpose-Driven Entrepreneurial Women Rise to the Top. We are all driven by an innate need for exploration and growth, to be engaged in work that matters, and to fulfill human needs through our own efforts. Embedding entrepreneurial thinking into education will prepare the next generation for the future. In this way, we will embrace the entrepreneurial spirit as the human spirit; it’s not just in some of us, it resides within us all.
Special thanks to Laura Smulian, researcher and writer, for her contributions to the this piece and to InnovateHERs – Why Purpose-Driven Women Rise to the Top.