What is the state of entrepreneurship education in the world today? To answer this question would be straight forward if the field of entrepreneurship education was in harmony about what content needs to be taught, how it needs to be taught and in what format or channel it needs to be delivered through. Indeed, these pedagogical challenges are at the core of many entrepreneurship centres in Europe, East Asia, the United States of America and Africa. In order to better address pedagogical issues practitioners will have to co-create terminological commonalities and general principles.
If anything the 14th European Entrepreneurship Colloquium (EEC), organised by the European Forum for Entrepreneurship Research (EFER) and co-chaired by Harvard Business School and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was set up to do exactly that. The legendary Dr Berth Twaalfhoven’s organisation (EFER) did this remarkably by amassing 57 practitioners from 26 countries across Europe, Asia, the US and Africa. These practitioners represented 46 entrepreneurship institutions over 6 days between Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management locations in July 2016. The EEC 2016 goals were to enhance entrepreneurship course and programme design across various curricula; provide a better understanding of the role and operation of labs, incubators and accelerators in entrepreneurship education; provide insights of growth, scalability, financing and management of dynamic enterprises; and finally enhance the use of participant-centred action learning case teaching skills.
“Go to any business school in the world and ask economists what ‘marginal costs’ are and you will find a consistent answer,” argued Bill Aulet, the author of the ground breaking disciplined entrepreneurship book and co-chair of EEC 2016. Bill’s argument and motivation for writing the book was inspired in part by the laissez-faire approach to teaching entrepreneurship that seem to characterise the field. The book was an attempt to professionalise and put some structure to entrepreneurship education. The need for disciplining the field is best illustrated by a graph that he presented below. It highlights the fact that the demand for entrepreneurship is very high while the quality of supply is inconsistent.
Among other key takeaways was the observation made by Prof. Tom Eisenmann that entrepreneurship education is moving online. Harvard Business School was experimenting with this with a few business courses. The big idea here was to create blended teaching by finding the right balance between online and classroom-based learning.
So what does all this mean for practitioners in South Africa? One of the key learnings for me was the need for entrepreneurship practitioners to work and collaborate with stakeholders in the ecosystem. Indeed, the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) and SeedStars Indices for 2016 rated the South African entrepreneurial ecosystems as the best in the continent. Organisations teaching entrepreneurship education need to work collaboratively to strengthen the ecosystem and maximise impact. South Africa needs eChampions who will promote and celebrate strategic collaborations in this space.
The following insights that came from Prof. Willis Emmons, Bill Aulet, Prof. Joe Lassiter, Prof. Walter Kuemmerle and Prof. Tom Eisenmann of Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management are what I consider useful takeaways for South African practitioners to ponder on:
- Create an environment that welcomes entrepreneurs. Use the mantra “come in, we’re open!”
- Refuse the temptation of using off-the-shelf pedagogy. Instead, take into account the kind of businesses students want to create and how fast they want to create them.
- Engage entrepreneurs with the community.
- Design programmes that will answer the student’s question: how will what I learn today, help me do things better in my business tomorrow?
- Think landscape, engagements, output and impact in programme design.
- Finally, bridge the “Knowing-Doing-Being” gap. Balancing the above pedagogical issues with the ecosystem needs can legitimise entrepreneurship education.
Phumlani Nkontwana practices entrepreneurship education at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation and the Gordon Institute of Business Science in South Africa. In his private capacity he runs a small but dedicated management consultancy working directly with entrepreneurs to provide growth-orientated solutions for startups and small businesses.