Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Can you teach it?

Starting next week I will be "teaching" entrepreneurial leadership at Drake University in Des Moines, IA. I first taught entrepreneurial management at a local community college 7 or 8 years ago. Before that I would have argued you can't teach it and it didn't belong in a college curriculum. Although I have yet to research the question, my personal experience made me a convert. Most of my students were really interested in starting their own businesses, and a surprising number did so. Although not all those students were traditional college age, the ones that started businesses were young. Their ventures included buying a bar (no mean feat for two guys under 21), opening a photography studio, sewing custom clothing, and starting an event planning business.

Just as importantly, all the students were required to think critically about the potential of small businesses and to do some self-analysis. It was challenging and fun for all of us, and at a minimum, after examining numerous real life successes and failures, the students came away with a greater appreciation for what is involved in starting a new business and succeeding with it.

Many schools around the U.S. have entrepreneurship programs today. It still is not clear if graduates of those programs start more businesses or are more successful. As Carl Schramm, President of the Kauffman Foundation, eloquently argues in his book, The Entrepreneurial Imperative, however, "Our colleges should be at the very heart of entrepreneurial capitalism..." The Foundation has recently published a report, Entrepreneurship in American Higher Education, arguing that entrepreneurship, as a "dominant force in contemporary America", is properly incorporated into the undergraduate curriculum.

On the other hand, as one of my favorite entrepreneurship bloggers, Kelly Spors who blogs for the Wall Street Journal, recently reported, entrepreneurship programs may not lead directly to local economic development. On the other hand, Dr. Jeffrey Cornwall, of Belmont University in Tennessee, argues they can and do lead to new businesses and new jobs.

I believe they are a good starting point, and they can't hurt (provided students "continue" to learn to read, and write and think. But that's another story...

What do you think?

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