This post is part of our Stanford REE series following last week’s Roundtable on Entrepreneurship Education. Here guest blogger Adam Bock reflects on the opening sessions from Tina Seelig, Jonathan Levie, Michael Clouser, and Heidi Roizen.
As a new entrepreneurship educator who has an entrepreneurial past, I feel keenly aware of the challenges in “teaching” entrepreneurship. Realistically, I learned more about entrepreneurship in the first 6 months of my first start-up company than I did during my 2-year MBA programme. At the same time, I believe that most aspects of entrepreneurship can be taught, and arguably should be taught more broadly to business school students and beyond.
The opening sessions of the REE10 conference have reinforced this perspective. Tina Seeling of Stanford Technology Ventures Program (http://stvp.stanford.edu/) opened the program talking about the history of REE and why it’s important for entrepreneurship educators to participate in discussion, networking, and problem-solving. The philosophy of developing so-called “T-shaped” students– that is, students with a breadth of knowledge across fields as well as depth in at least one field– presents real challenges in the business school, where MBA students take courses for 2 years in the US and only 1 year in the UK. How, in such a short time frame, can we maximise the exposure to entrepreneurship, including real-world experience, while providing a sound basis of business skills?
Equally important, Tina reminded us that entrepreneurship isn’t just about high-growth technology firms, or even just start-up companies. Entrepreneurial activity takes place in large corporations, NGOs, universities, not-for-profits, and even governments. Being entrepreneurial is a lot more than founding new ventures. It’s about identifying opportunities that solve problems, and developing solutions that make the world better. By the way, if you’d like to hear more about Stanford Technology Ventures Programs, including watching one of their thousands of video-recorded sessions, lectures, and talks by world-famous entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, educators and others, go to: http://stvp.stanford.edu/
The special circumstances of Stanford University, of course, are not reflective of the broader world. Dr. Jonathan Levie (http://www.strath.ac.uk/huntercentre/people/directors/jonathan_levie/) emphasized the real challenges facing Scotland in particular in his talk about the findings of the (ongoing) Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Study (GEM). GEM is the largest study of entrepreneurial activity ever undertaken, providing insight on local, regional, nationall, and international trends. Dr. Levie led the GEM project for a number of years, and is one of the world’s experts on national/international entrepreneurial activity. The bottom lines: Scotland has lower entrepreneurial rates than the UK or comparable countries in the EU, and those rates have fallen faster than in other countries in the most recent years. There is also an extremely low “informal” investment rate in Scotland– that is, the rate at which people make investments in the start-up businesses of friends and family. As this type of funding is responsible for something like 99% of all venture creation activity, it’s clear that the critical fuel for the entrepreneurship engine in Scotland is scarce. In fact, what entrepreneurship does occur in Scotland is more heavily driven by “necessity” entrepreneurship compared to “opportunitic” entrepreneurship. In other words, entrepreneurs in Scotland start companies because they don’t have other good options, rather than because they have become passionate about a new idea. The statistics were sobering to say the least. All of the GEM information on Scotland, and the rest of the world for that matter, is available for free at the GEM website: http://www.gemconsortium.org/
The following sessions were more upbeat, as they focused on how we can effectively teach entrepreneurship. Michael Clouser of the University of Edinburgh (http://edinburgh.academia.edu/MichaelClouser) talked about going beyond traditional modes of entrepreneurship education. He emphasized the need for design education and cross-pollination of ideas and expertise. Entrepreneurship, as those of us who have either succeeded or failed (or both) in starting or running entrepreneurial ventures, is about a lot more than financial projections and product design.
Heidi Roizen (http://www.roizen.com/heidi/) brought her unique journey as a technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist to a discussion about learning from failure. She talked about small failures and big failures, and how to benefit from otherwise painful knocks. Focusing on failures of financing structure, partnerships, and organisational strategy, she challenged entrepreneurship educators to help students benefit from the experiential wisdom of those who have gone before. I can assure you that this resonated for me– though at times in my own entrepreneurial career I found myself wondering whether it was worse to make old mistakes again or discover entirely new mistakes… In particular, Heidi asked us to think about how we help students be less afraid of failure. “Skinning your knee is not such a bad thing,” she explained.
What do we do with all this data, information, and discussion? In my own mind, entrepreneurship goes beyond venture creation and economic development. While I believe that robust entrepreneurial activity is an essential, if not critical component driving economic development and positive growth, I am equally convinced that entrepreneurship provides a skill that enables profound journeys and life experiences. As an entrepreneur-cum-educator, I see my own role as facilitator and translator of knowledge and experience, and perhaps even some hard-won wisdom, to the next generation of opportunity-seekers. These opening sessions reminded me of this new opportunity and challenge: to encourage and promote entrepreneurial thinking where it can make significant, positive impacts.
Regards from the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh,
Adam J. Bock
Lecturer in Entrepreneurship