The Wise Entrepreneur

Can entrepreneurship be taught?

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Can entrepreneurship be taught

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Today let’s briefly consider this very interesting topic! Can entrepreneurship be taught?

Now, the world has seen various angles and descriptions of both successful and non-successful entrepreneurs. Universities and other colleges globally have various programs that teach entrepreneurship, business management, business administration, commerce etc. Various people including entrepreneurs, university professors and students, including society keep on asking this question over and over again. Can entrepreneurship be taught?

On the other side, one can argue that to pose the above question is a bit dumb simply because anything can be taught. What’s your opinion in this regard? Rather, the question should be; Is entrepreneurship education useful to people? Does it add value to the graduates and give them any leading edge at all in business? Is there any remarkable positive difference as far as business success is concerned, between an entrepreneurship or business degree graduate, and any common uneducated man or someone who studied any other irrelevant discipline?

Candidly, I don’t think I can answer these questions but I want to simply draw your attention to the following interesting things.

  1. There are some startling statistics about entrepreneurship which are interesting to consider. According to Aleks Merkovich statistics indicate that most small business owners do not have a college degree. Sure – most are not degree holders, but can we assume that most are successful in their entrepreneurial endeavors? This is food for thought but we all know that SME’s are the drivers of economic growth globally. Additionally, statistics show that entrepreneurs are 125% more successful if they previously worked in the industry in which they are now doing business. What clue do we get here? Experience, rather than simply studying the subject, gives one a big advantage and leading edge in business success. Are you following my line of thoughts? Ok. Let’s proceed. An article by Robert Phillips in the Guardian, entitled ‘Why do so few university graduates start their own businesses?’, shows that only 0.6% of entrepreneurship graduates actually started their own businesses, with 4.7% of recent graduates being self-employed or freelancing, against 8.7% of the general population who have commenced a business endeavor over a three year period.
  1. While learning about entrepreneurship, the approach to teaching entrepreneurship matters in attaining success. It is argued that simply learning or studying entrepreneurship, but without the right approach, could be a waste of time. According to an article entitled, ‘Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught in a Classroom?’ by Ashish K. Bhatia and Natalia Levina, published in the Harvard Business Review, it is documented that there is a very high skepticism about the whole idea that academics can actually teach entrepreneurship in classrooms and add real value. It’s noted that some of the entrepreneurial requirements such as intuitive action, imagination etc. cannot be well developed in the classroom environment. Are we still together? Please don’t switch off your mind simply because you disagree with the points I’m trying to assemble in this write-up! In any case, I’m not going to make the conclusion for you. You certainly have the right to make your decision, whether correctly or wrongly. However, some universities that are using unique approaches such as operating theater approach, focusing on rewiring students to action orientation rather than too much reasoning and analysis etc. seem to have a good impact. There is a pointer that entrepreneurship education itself could be discouraging some potential entrepreneurs, despite the fact that the graduates have improved communication, presentation and team-working skills, according to the European Commission Report. So, can entrepreneurship be taught?  
  1. Though the right business training helps entrepreneurs avoid nine out of ten of common mistakes that make enterprises go bust, according to Laura Bridgestock, some people still argue that personality  traits such as resilience cannot be taught, yet entrepreneurs need these to succeed. Even if students learn the principles in class, they have to experiment and learn some lessons from the streets to succeed in business. Do you now understand why many MBA graduates would not touch starting their own business even with a long spoon, but rather do something else? Of course, not everybody can be an entrepreneur. Again, there is a very big difference between running and optimizing an already operating business, with starting and successfully growing a business.  Interestingly, entrepreneurs (even some who have never got a basic degree) employ MBA and other graduates, to run their business empires. What a paradox!
  1. The most remarkably successful entrepreneurs globally today were not graduates, though some of them went back to college for their degrees after achieving great business success. The Gentleman’s Journal has renown names such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Henry Ford, Sir Richard Branson, Walt Disney etc. Beyond studying entrepreneurship, let’s now simply focus on being a graduate, whether it be a degree in animal hooves, site seeing, mountain climbing, social science, economics, community development or whatever you want to call it. Does it make any difference? By the way, you don’t need to remind me that the above gentlemen rely on hundreds of business and other graduates to make their enterprises successful. I know that, but allow me to proceed and conclude my analysis. Ok? So, I get back to our question above. Does entrepreneurship education, or any college education generally, give one an upper edge in the local and global business world?  I agree with Alejandro Cremades’ line of thoughts in his article entitled ‘Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?’ in the Forbes Magazine, in which it is argued that an MBA might not make one suited for a start-up, despite enabling one to raise money, earns people’s trust, learn strategy and acquire rigorous critical-thinking skills. Sure, business graduates may perform exceedingly well as employees in already stable businesses, but could be disastrous if they ever ventured out on their own to start enterprises in the complex business world. Don’t you agree with me?
  1. Business success and failure appear to be hinged on factors that are only indirectly related to common business knowledge. According to Lawrimore, the five key success factors for business are strategic focus (leadership, management, planning), people (personnel, staff, learning, development), operations (processes, work), marketing (customer relations, sales, responsiveness) and finances (assets, facilities, equipment). On the other hand, common causes of business failure according to Londonandzurich, are named as poor strategy and planning, poor leadership, bad cash flow management and losing control of finances, and overdependence on a few big customers. These are indeed the opposites of the success factors to a large extent. Can we assume that an entrepreneurship or business graduate has what it takes to lead the execution and synchronization of these to enable success? I won’t wait for your answers.

Right! As I mentioned earlier, I’m not going to make the conclusion for you. Ok? You could have your business degree but play it smart by reaching beyond the degree, and having remarkable business success. However, you could also have several business-related degrees, a doctorate degree or whatever you like, and still have a catastrophic business failure. I mean the type that makes newspaper headlines for a while.

It’s really up to you! Bye for now.

Till then,

The Wise Entrepreneur

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Clayton W. L. Mwaka

Clayton W. L. Mwaka, a Ugandan chartered accountant and motivational speaker with 24 years of diverse experience, specializes in business administration, international consultancy, and lecturing. He advocates for personal empowerment through balanced living, qualitative leadership, and paradigm shifts, aiming to unlock individual potential globally.

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