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 that content needs to be taught and in what format or channel that content needs to be delivered through. Indeed, these pedagogical challenges are at the core of many entrepreneurship centres in Europe, East Asia, United States and Africa. So to address the question posed, the challenge may necessitate for practitioners to co-create conceptual commonalities and general principles in order to better address pedagogical issues.
If anything, the 14th European Entrepreneurship Colloquium (EEC) organized 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 address these challenges. The legendary Dr. Berth Twaalfhoven’s organization (EFER) did this remarkable by amassing 57 practitioners from 26 countries across Europe, Asia, United States 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 program design across various curricula; provide a better understanding of the role and operation of labs, incubators, 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 characterize the field. The book was an attempt to put some structure and professionalize 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 education is very high whilst the quality of supply is inconsistent.
Source: Bill Aulet, MIT
Among other key take aways was the observation made by Prof. Tom Eisenmann that entrepreneurship education is moving online. Harvard Business School was experimenting with this with few business courses. The big idea here being 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 put the South African entrepreneurial ecosystems as the best in the continent. Organizations teaching entrepreneurship education need to work collaboratively to strengthen the ecosystem and maximize impact. South Africa needs eChampions that will promote and celebrate strategic collaborations in this space.
I will summarize below what I thought were six useful takeaways for South African practitioners to ponder on. These insights mainly 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:
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 tomorrow in my business?
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 legitimize entrepreneurship education.