Teaching Entrepreneurship | By Zimkhitha Peter | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
Teaching Entrepreneurship | By Zimkhitha Peter

Teaching Entrepreneurship | By Zimkhitha Peter

 Entrepreneurship is neither science nor art, it is a practice. Peter Drucker

I think by now we all agree that Entrepreneurship can be taught; at least at the Foundation we believe that it can be. Even though I use the word “teach”, at the Foundation our practice is that of facilitation rather than that of “teaching”. The approaches discussed in this blog, however, are as relevant for teaching as they are for facilitating.

Entrepreneurship is a discipline and like any other discipline it can be taught, however, according to Bill Aulet, head of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and author of Disciplined Entrepreneurship, teaching entrepreneurship well is difficult. “Teaching entrepreneurship is difficult because the subject itself is idiosyncratic, contextual and experiential. Unlike chemistry, math or computer programming, there are no definite answers in the startup world. By definition, entrepreneurs are doing the unknown and the untried, so there are no algorithms for success. Making matters worse, there is a limited amount of scholarship and data that exists on what makes startups succeed or fail’ (Bill Aulet 2013).

At the Foundation we know this challenge too well.  In the last ten years we have explored several approaches to teaching entrepreneurship. In the early days of the Foundation we used experiential learning based on Kolb’s Learning Cycle. David Kolb published his learning styles model in 1984 from which he developed his learning style inventory. Kolb’s experiential learning theory works on two levels: a four-stage cycle of learning and four separate learning styles. Much of Kolb’s theory is concerned with the learner’s internal cognitive processes.

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We found Kolb’s learning cycle quite useful in moving entrepreneurship training from theory to action. Our curriculum was designed is such a way that each Candidate Fellow experienced the entrepreneurship process, i.e generate an idea, validate the idea market and plan operational elements and launch the enterprise. Candidate Fellows in their second year of University ran a 10-day retail business, at third year a service business and at fourth year a consulting business. These businesses were the core feature of the experiential nature of our Programme, which was excellent in allowing Candidate Fellows to have concrete experience, reflect on that experience, learn from the experience and experiment. During this time our curriculum focused more on entrepreneurial skills than entrepreneurial mindset and had a bias towards entrepreneurship training as a process rather than entrepreneurship education as a method.

Our current approach to teaching entrepreneurship is a practice-based approached. We learnt of this approach from a book titled Teaching Entrepreneurship: A Practice-Based Approach, by Heidi M. Neck, Patricia G. Greene and Candida G. Brush), which resonates with our thinking and complements our previous pedagogy, the Kolb learning cycle. Each of these practices can only be learnt through experiential approaches.

The most important thing about a practice-based approach is that it is a method-based approach rather than a process-based approach. The word “process” assumes that the inputs and outputs are known. Entrepreneurial environments are however, unpredictable, uncertain and ambiguous and as such require a specific mindset to navigate the discipline. As noted in the book, approaching entrepreneurship as a method means teaching a way of thinking and acting.

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  • The Practice of Play relates to the development of a free and imaginative mind, allowing one to see a wealth of possibilities, a world of opportunities and a pathway to more innovative ways of being entrepreneurial.
  • The Practice of Empathy borrows heavily from psychology, neuroscience, and design thinking. Entrepreneurs are problem identifiers and problem solvers. Understanding the needs and feelings of others helps students identify which problems are real opportunities, and which are just personal.
  • The Practice of Creation discusses the role of creativity in entrepreneurship as well as delving into the world of creation in contrast to prediction. Entrepreneurs work with what they have, not what they wish they had. The practice of creation develops our students’ ability to work with the reality of what is available and to trust that this is where innovation is born.
  • The Practice of Experimentation draws from medical sociology and other theory. Experimentation is about trying something, seeing what the results are, learning from the results and then trying again. Experimentation is a process of putting forward an idea, testing it, measuring results, making adjustments and then testing again. Learning to do this quickly is the hallmark of a successful entrepreneur.
  • The Practice of Reflection: Reflection holds all the practices together and integrates them into one complete experience. A good reflection practice helps students internalise and apply what they have learnt. We encourage Candidate Fellows to codify their learning experiences, especially in high action environments.

Our entrepreneurial mindset curriculum is delivered through this practice-based approach. For instance, our Ignitions programme encourages Candidate Fellows to reflect on their daily experiences (Practice of Reflection) and identify inefficiencies and ask relevant questions this practice leads to them thinking of possible innovative solutions and expand their thinking. Furthermore, they are encouraged to develop these Ignitions and are given an opportunity to pitch the idea at our annual National Jamboree. Some Candidate Fellows come with their Minimal Viable Products (Practice of Creation) and pitch their ideas (Practice of Experimentation) to a panel of entrepreneurs and other industry experts where they get feedback that they can use to further develop their ideas. To date more than 200 ideas have been pitched at Jamboree, since its inception in 2011

In April this year, the Association launched its Ideation, Validation and Creation (IVC) programme. IVC is aimed at helping Fellows validate and test their business ideas through the Practice of Creation and Experimentation. The intention is that those who progress through the minimum 3-month process will qualify to enter the full time Accelerator. In addition to this the Association co-hosts evenings called “crash and burn” which are designed for Fellows to share with each other their failures (Practice of Empathy).  To date, there are 24 businesses at different stages of the IVC pipeline

We continue to explore how to effectively use all of the practices to best “teach” entrepreneurship, as I write this we are well on our way to launching our Entrepreneurial game (Blue Helix) as part of our strategy to teach entrepreneurship through the Practice of Play at high schools across the country.

We believe as stated by Heidi et al that the method of entrepreneurship requires the development of a set of practices. Through these practices we can help students to think more entrepreneurially, which in turn can develop students who act more entrepreneurially.



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