Can We Really Teach Entrepreneurship? A Perspective from GMAC School Products
Can entrepreneurship really be taught in business school? Or is it purely a product of the millennial mindset possessed with the drive and passion to blaze their own trails in the world of business?
These questions are made more relevant in light of the Global Entrepreneurship week (November 17-23). The answer to both questions suggests successful entrepreneurship may require both: the self-motivations of students combined with the incubator environment that a business school can provide in which to educate and develop tomorrow’s new business leaders.
Three business school educators presenting at the 2014 GMAC Annual Conference session titled "The Entrepreneurial Renaissance of MBA Education" tackled these questions, describing how evolving marketplace innovation and growing student interest in business startups are driving the development of entrepreneurship studies in their respective programs. Emily Gohn Cieri (Wharton Entrepreneurship, University of Pennsylvania), Michael Koenig (Darden School of Business, University of Virginia), and Stewart Thornhill (Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan) each documented how their schools are responding to student demand for entrepreneurial studies by developing degree programs and tracks designed to foster entrepreneurship, teach the basics of running a business, and provide mentoring for student entrepreneurs.
Aside from their interesting discussion, however, the question remained whether and how much business school coursework contributes to the development of successful entrepreneurs.
Recent GMAC surveys of b-school graduates and alumni show that a small but steady percentage of students each year have entrepreneurial plans and credit their graduate management degrees with helping them embark on their entrepreneurial journey. Of the four percent of class of 2014 graduates who reported they were currently self-employed, more than half (54%) of these graduates entered their business program as entrepreneurs and 46 percent began their business while enrolled in business school.
These entrepreneur graduates overwhelmingly attested to the importance of their graduate management education to their career plans: 87 percent ranked the development of leadership skills as most important, followed by growing their business (86%), developing a business idea and creating a business plan (83% each).
Driving their entrepreneurial pursuits were the shared motivations of passion for what they were doing and being the primary business decision maker.
Findings from GMAC’s 2014 Alumni Perspectives Survey showed that although the typical transition from employee to employer still happens at a later stage in alumni careers, business school alumni are launching their entrepreneurship endeavors earlier. Although 80 percent of the self-employed alumni surveyed worked for a number of years after graduation before pursuing entrepreneurial ambitions, 45 percent of self-employed alumni from the recent classes of 2010-2013 launched their business directly after graduation. In contrast only 24 percent of self-employed alumni from the class years 2000 to 2009 started their businesses directly after graduation.
The launch of entrepreneurial careers immediately upon graduation from business school is a fairly recent phenomenon, but based on growing student interest in innovative careers and economic opportunities available to startup businesses, the timeline to launching a new business after graduation seems to be shrinking. Business schools may do well to position themselves as the foundation on which students can build an entrepreneurial career.
Coupled with the drive, passion, and experience that students bring to the classroom, business schools can serve as a launchpad, if you will, to nurture and grow future entrepreneurs. Business schools can teach the basics of running a business, provide mentoring to student entrepreneurs, and provide real-time experience around the creation of a start-up (in addition to classroom teaching there are entrepreneurship labs: Wharton, Tsinghua, etc.) through entrepreneurship programs like the ones showcased in the Annual Conference session.
According to Stewart Thornhill, “There are two components to teaching entrepreneurship, the learning component and the acting/doing component. Often the fastest learning occurs in acting. Whether you learn by doing or reading, the transformation of knowledge into action makes entrepreneurs.”
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