The role of education in the Entrepreneurial Journey | By Teri Richter | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
The role of education in the Entrepreneurial Journey | By Teri Richter

The role of education in the Entrepreneurial Journey | By Teri Richter

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.55.04 AMEducation and the pursuit of academic excellence are at the core of the Foundations entrepreneurial journey. The Foundation believes that a strong founding and exemplary performance in academics and secondary and tertiary education form the building blocks of the journey for the high impact entrepreneur. The current write up aims to contextualise the empirical argument for this relationship and then define academic excellence in the words of the Allan Gray Beneficiaries.


In the words of academics:

The proposition of formal education contributing positively towards entrepreneurship is well supported by the academic literature. As suggested by the 5 key findings of the 2008 meta-analysis by Van der Sluis, Van Praag and Vijverberg (p795):


  1. Education does not influence the likelihood of an individual self-selecting entrepreneurship as a career,
  2. The effect of education on entrepreneurship performance is positive and significant
  3. The return to a marginal year of schooling is 6.1% for an entrepreneur
  4. The effect of education on earnings is smaller for entrepreneurs than for employees in Europe, but larger in the USA
  5. The returns to schooling in entrepreneurship are higher in the USA than in Europe, higher for females than for males, and lower for non-whites or immigrants

Further studies in a developing country context support the notion that an added year of education can raise entrepreneurial profits by on average 5.5% (Kolstad and Wiig, 2015). The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) study conducted by Herrington and Kew in 2010 suggests that specifically in the South African context there is a positive correlation between opportunity-driven entrepreneurship and levels of education. Lastly, the link between secondary and tertiary education and formal entrepreneurship is suggested by Jiminez et al (2015), as being an enabler for entrepreneurship through increasing self-confidence, lowering the perceived risk of starting a business and developing human capital.

In this regard, the Foundation has been collecting outcome level data from our beneficiaries over the past three years to build a comprehensive definition of academic excellence according to our own beneficiaries.

In the words of Allan Gray Scholars and Candidate Fellows:

Defining academic excellence:

This work has resulted in the following definition developed through Scholar and Candidate Fellow feedback. The Allan Gray Scholars and Candidate Fellows describe academic excellence as

  1. Doing your best,
  2. Understanding your work and applying your knowledge
  3. Continually improving
  4. Setting targets and achieving them for themselves.

“Doing well is performing to the best of your ability and not comparing yourself.” Grade 8 Scholar, Gauteng

“I just think that doing well means that you’re improving in what you did last time, even if it’s by 1%, 2% you’re still like … you’re nearly there and you’re nearly reaching your goals, so it’s one step closer.” Grade 10 Scholar, Western Cape

“I would really say it’s making knowledge your own and understanding things. Einstein said that if you can explain something to a child then you truly understand it. So I try that – can I really explain this to someone in a way that they can understand. So I thinking of learning as you should really understand it, it’s not just about cramming.” Year Engage, Gauteng, University of Pretoria

Most of the responses highlighted that academic excellence and achievement is about performing to the best of your ability continuously. Beneficiaries noted it is important not to compare yourself to others.

Barriers and enablers

During the pursuit of academic excellence, there are many barriers that beneficiaries must conquer, the most important barriers noted by Allan Gray beneficiaries in the pursuit of academic excellence include:

  • Time management
  • Prioritisation of tasks, activities and deliverables
  • Dealing with pressure to perform
  • Learning to overcome a fear of failure
  • Optimal access to resources

Identifying these barriers is essential for programme development and ensuring beneficiaries receive the optimal support to learn appropriate coping mechanisms and tools to address these barriers. In addition to barriers, beneficiaries also noted the key enablers to their academic performance and mentioned the following:

  • Receiving support from parents, teachers and the funding partner – the Foundation
  • Approaching each task with a positive attitude
  • Being motivated to succeed
  • An optimal amount of competition between peers – but mostly themselves.
  • Being passionate about what you are doing

“Love what you do. You cannot possibly try to be amazing at something that you hate. It’s going to be an upward battle and you’re not enjoying any of it” . Year Explore, Western Cape, University of Western Cape

Academics and entrepreneurship

From the definitions of our own beneficiaries, it suggests that through the outcome of pursuing and achieving academic excellence, individuals learn how to overcome failure, deal with pressure, set goals and meet them, continually improve and do their best. The literature further suggests that secondary and tertiary education further develop an individual’s self-confidence, lower their perception of the risk of entrepreneurship and enhance their ability to develop human capital. These abilities and traits link to those we see in successful entrepreneurs and support the notion that the academic journey can positively contribute to the preparation and equipping of individuals in their entrepreneurial process.


Jiménez, A., Palmero-Cámara, C., González-Santos, M.J., González-Bernal, J., Jiménez-Eguizábal, J.A.,            2015. The impact of educational levels on formal and informal entrepreneurship. Business         Research Quarterly Vol 18:3, pg 204-2012.

Kolstad, I., and Wiig, A., 2015. Education and entrepreneurial success. Small Business Economics, Vol        44:4, pg 783-796.

Van der Sluis, J., Van Praag, M., and Vijverberg, W., 2008. Education and entrepreneurship selection and performance: A review of the empirical literature. Journal of Economic Surveys, Vol 22:5, pg 795     – 841.




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