There are limits to teaching entrepreneurship

There is a difference between studying entrepreneurship and actually being an entrepreneur

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Though these words have inspired people across the globe, they leave them questioning how to “be the change.”

Many people who seek to find this answer turn to universities, where there has been a push toward entrepreneurship and innovation.

However, teaching entrepreneurship can only be effective to an extent. There is a difference between studying entrepreneurship and actually being an entrepreneur.

David Bornstein, journalist and author, said in his book How to Change the World, entrepreneurship is about “revealing possibilities that are currently unseen and releasing the capacity within each person to reshape the world, and this doesn’t require an elite education.”

We are limited when it comes to teaching entrepreneurship because there are only so many classes students that are offered, and self-motivation plays the biggest role in entrepreneurs' success.

Entrepreneurship is a hands-on activity, and its potential reaches far past classroom walls.

"You need to be technically competent in a field. You need to be more of a listener, and you need to be more of a learner than a talker. You need to be a doer," Luiz Mesquita, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the W.P. Carey School of Business, said.

Whether one studies entrepreneurship or not, everyone has the ability to acquire these characteristics.

“The best analogy applied to entrepreneurship is that of a U.S. Marine,” Mesquita said.

“You can never tell a U.S. Marine, ‘hey kid here’s a rifle, go to war to learn how to be a warrior,’ because the chances that the person will survive is minimal. You have to give them training on how to use the equipment and work as a team.” 

“When you are a warrior, the chance of dying is much greater, and this is the case with entrepreneurs. Your business can die really quickly," he said.

Being exposed to entrepreneurship is one thing, but if you aren’t self-motivated, you aren’t going to get anywhere. A degree will not make you passionate. A degree will not make you a doer. 

Most people work for others because they need a boss. They need someone to tell them what to do and to give them deadlines in order for work to get done. But as an entrepreneur, you must provide your own deadlines. The only boss is yourself.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, “about half of all new establishments survive five years or more and about one-third survive 10 years or more.”

With such a high failure rate, one would think having a degree in entrepreneurship would be extremely beneficial — however, it may be more beneficial to study an outside field and to then apply that knowledge to a future startup.

According to an article by Virgin written by Trilby Rajna, many of the most successful entrepreneurs do not have business degreesIn fact, 32 percent of the world's top billionaires have no degree. 

Entrepreneurship is a mindset that involves creativity and collaboration. You can devote your life to studying entrepreneurship, but without this mindset and until you step out of the classroom, you will never be an entrepreneur.

 “Perhaps what all of these super successful entrepreneurs actually have in common is a passion for their chosen discipline and the freedom to be creative and take a chance on an idea,” Rajna said.

Intrinsic motivation to persevere through setbacks is what separates an entrepreneur from a wantrepreneur, and this has nothing to do with formal education.

Though universities cannot necessarily teach a student how to be an entrepreneur, they can instill entrepreneurship ideals into its students and provide opportunities and capital for inspired students to act on their ideas.

The W.P. Carey School of Business offers a Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation to all majors with a hands-on approach where students develop their business concepts and actually bring them to fruition.

Students also have the opportunity to offer their business or product to ASU competitions where business moguls may be willing to invest.

At the end of the day you can have the best mentors and advice in the world, but no one will be holding your hand through the process of developing a business.

Entrepreneurship is different from other majors in that after four years of schooling, you will not necessarily be handing out resumes to future employers.

“In entrepreneurship, you will be advised to experiment a lot and to fail a lot until you can call yourself an entrepreneur,” Mesquita said.

Experimenting and failing are parts of most aspects in life. Whether you decide to do this with an entrepreneurship degree or not is up to you. 


Reach the reporter at hehillst@asu.edu or follow @hollyhillsten on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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