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Can Schools Teach Entrepreneurship? Can Schools Teach Entrepreneurship?

Can Schools Teach Entrepreneurship?

by Nikhil Goyal
September 1, 2012

Entrepreneurs are never born, only created. If you really think about it, entrepreneurship is a mindset and that mindset has to be a lifestyle—when you "own" it, you can run with any idea. So can schools actually teach entrepreneurship? Yes and no.

In the 1990s, a Kauffman Foundation study found that two-thirds of high school students wanted to become entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, the same study discovered that more than 80 percent felt they had not learned anything about entrepreneurship in school. Given our current industrial model of education that has produced compliant employees, the results are no surprise. Entrepreneurship can’t be taught in the traditional sense with textbooks, lectures, and worksheets. What schools need to do is abandon the status quo and cultivate this mindset.

Entrepreneur Gulay Ozkan may have found the solution. In her class "The Courage to Create a Business" at Bilgi University in Istanbul, Ozkan pinpoints three dimensions: ecosystem, entrepreneur, and idea.

To determine the ecosystem, Ozkan asks students, where are you? "Being an entrepreneur in an emerging market and an advanced market are two very different things. I ask my students the question, 'Are you aware of your ecosystem?'" says Ozkan. "We need to break people's blindness when they have been stuck in an industry for a long time." Tunnel vision kills innovation.

To help students define what entrepreneurship means for them, Ozkan has them answer the question, who are you? Can you live with your work 24 hours in a day? That directly echoes advice from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. He'd put his tech career above almost everything else in his life, even his own health.

Third is defining the idea. Ozkan helps students figure out what they want to do. Using design-driven methodologies, the class develops ideas through exercises that let them express the challenges they are facing and their personal dreams.

Ozkan also sprinkles in guest lectures from people like journalist Simran Sethi and former Irish deputy prime minister Dick Spring, exposing the students to some brilliant thinkers who can serve as role models.

At the end of the day, however, entrepreneurship all comes down to execution. Anyone can have a good idea, but execution separates the winners from the losers. When Ozkan’s students actually have to apply the lessons from her class in real life—two of them have even launched an internet insurance startup—that’s what makes everything click. 

Although she’s running her class at a university, high schools can easily teach these same lessons. Students need schools to figure this out now. Ending schools' "do as you are told" mindset and letting kids be spontaneous and take leaps of faith would certainly help. I'm only 17-years-old but I can see how as you get older, the ability to unlearn and recover from one’s education gets much more difficult.

If schools look at innovation and entrepreneurship as students’ path forward they'll be able to help young people do what Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sramana Mitra once told India's best and brightest: "Build products. Build companies. And finally, build fortunes."

Photo via (cc) Flickr user stevendepolo

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