Entrepreneurial Education (Part 2) (Eva Yao)
(Cartoon from http://xkcd.com/519/)
Yesterday I covered the mounting interest of Chinese students in undergraduate and graduate education and the importance of valuable entrepreneurial education. In today’s post, I discuss the need for high-quality entrepreneurial education that is critical for economic and social development.
Henry Bienen (who is against the proposition that “too many kids go to college”) has argued that in terms of preternatural entrepreneurial talent, most people are not Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. I couldn’t agree more. As books such as Outliers and Talent is Overrated portray, a significant amount of practice/training combined with unexpected and unpredictable circumstances seems to account for much of the variance in individual entrepreneurial success. As much as we should celebrate the passion, courage, and resilience of many successful entrepreneurs, we should also be down-to-earth and think about how to teach entrepreneurial thinking and cultivate appreciation for entrepreneurial capabilities as a skillset that can be honed and improved through frequent practice.
I attended the Price-Babson Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators in January and one of the most important take-aways for me was that there is a need to teach entrepreneurial thinking at all levels of education – from K-12 to post-secondary and post-graduate. One can be an entrepreneur in many different settings: inside an organization, in the community, with one’s own career, in the family, with friends, etc. The essence of entrepreneurship and the learning that comes with it are in the mindset and action that mobilizes other people and resources to extract value from opportunity.
Not all university settings are fitting for learning about entrepreneurship. A university can offer, however, tremendous potential as the fertile ground for collaboration among students and researchers from different backgrounds. Entrepreneurship education may be the common thread that ties everyone together. The fact that only a few well-known universities (such as MIT and Stanford) seem to excel at this does not mean that the entrepreneurial ecosystem within a university and between the university and the community will not work for others. It takes a community of people who buy into the value of teaching entrepreneurial thinking to students in different disciplines and helping them extract value from what they love to do. CU still has a long way to go, but both the Silicon Flatirons and the Cross Campus Entrepreneurship Program are great examples of concerted effort across campus and within the Boulder community.
Chinese students are here because they believe in the innovative and entrepreneurial culture of the U.S. Although many are not studying or practicing entrepreneurship, it’s only a matter of time before they take what they observed here and start something either back home or in the U.S. Their increasing presence on American university campuses can be viewed in different ways: as a threat (they are taking more of our resources and opportunities) and as an opportunity (funding universities through their tuition). I’d propose an open attitude toward Chinese students in the U.S. – yes they do represent challenges on the teaching and integration side of things, they also represent global economic opportunities – if U.S. universities are able to help them to become part of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and see that competition and innovation are the key ingredients for sustainable development, then this is indeed an opportunity well captured.
In closing, Vivek Wadhwa had a blog post on the myths about entrepreneurs in America. It nicely counters misconceptions about American entrepreneurs. If we believe that learning is important for wealth creation at both the individual and aggregate level, then the real question is whether we can innovate within, around, and outside the existing higher educational system to facilitate the (ideally) life-long experience of entrepreneurship. The statistic of student enrollment is but a by-product of the system, which can perhaps take on different numbers when our educational system approximates an optimal level for adding value to the society.
Eva Yao is Assistant Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at the Leeds School of Business at CU-Boulder.