I believe we are living in the golden age of entrepreneurship. Through our devices and the Internet, we are more connected to the world than we have ever been and have unlimited access to information. Moreover, we are now living in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution where technology such as augmented reality, artificial intelligence and robotics are coming on stream. All this taken together is a perfect recipe for disruptive innovation and the thriving of the entrepreneurial spirit.
As an educator, I have often wondered if entrepreneurship can be taught in schools and universities. I have often heard people say that if you want to become an entrepreneur, do not waste time studying. Just get your business started up. Do not waste money on your studies when you can invest the same funds in your own start-up business. The earlier you start, the faster you will achieve your financial goals. Formal education is a waste of time and learning by doing is much more useful.
However, entrepreneurship is not just about starting a business and making lots of money, and entrepreneurs are not mere businessmen/women. Entrepreneurs are innovators and they create value through significant ventures that apply new and better ways of doing things. They reform and revolutionise the way we produce things and provide services. They move the economy forward by serving new markets and creating new ways of performing tasks in a way that adds value to society and brings about sustainable progress. Therefore, there is indeed a need for entrepreneurs to have a good understanding of the world around them and the role they play as active and compassionate citizens. This is what good education should be about.
I believe that entrepreneurship can still be taught if you do it right. Entrepreneurship education should not just cover business knowledge, but also nurture an entrepreneurial mindset and provide an environment for entrepreneurship to flourish. Business is a tool for entrepreneurs to start and implement their ventures. Knowledge of the main functional areas of business including accounting, finance, management, marketing, economics, computing and statistics would help entrepreneurs understand the market that they operate in. In addition to this, knowledge of the various forms of business ventures and funding structures is also important, as are the understanding and application of technology and innovation and the many forms of entrepreneurship such as intrapreneurship and social entrepreneurship.
However, the key component of entrepreneurship education is really the nurturing of the right personal traits such as resilience, persistence and resourcefulness. Entrepreneurs require strong emotional intelligence. They need to be able to empathise with their customers to be able to deliver the right product or service to them. They also need to be able to lead and motivate a strong team to execute their ventures. Entrepreneurship is therefore as much about mindset as it is about knowledge and skills. Entrepreneurship education should develop this entrepreneurial mentality through curricular and extracurricular elements.
Entrepreneurship is also about experimentation and execution. There is a need to build an ecosystem for students to work on actual projects and practise their entrepreneurial skills. Students need to collaborate with entrepreneurs on campus to learn practical skills and not just study theories from textbooks. Students must be provided with the opportunity to experience a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship—a culture where failure is accepted and not frowned upon to enable the flourishing of creativity and innovation. Working as interns in start-up companies will also enable students to observe and learn of the challenges of building and managing an actual venture.
Finally, entrepreneurship education should not only provide a certificate that will be used for employment. While many graduates may indeed be working for other corporations, the main goal for an entrepreneur is to start a venture. Consequently, students should be required to ideate and develop their own entrepreneurial venture during the period of their education so that when they graduate, they will at least have a business plan that can be executed if they so wish. Of course, not everyone would want to start a venture immediately upon graduation; but the experience of building a start-up would be useful for graduates looking for employment. Companies today are being challenged by volatile economic conditions and existing companies, therefore, would be looking for graduates who are innovative and entrepreneurial.
In summary, entrepreneurship education can work if we incorporate the elements of knowing, doing and being. After all, entrepreneurship is very much a human endeavour and educating entrepreneurs should be closely in line with educating a person to become an active, responsible, resourceful and compassionate human being.
Associate Professor Dr Foo Yin Fah
Department of Accounting
Originally published in The Edge, January 2017