Can universities teach entrepreneurship and innovation?

Can universities teach entrepreneurship and innovation?

Monday, November 4, 2013 - 12:55

I’ve been thinking a lot about whether entrepreneurs and innovation professionals can be developed or whether people become entrepreneurs or have a preference for innovation simply as a result of the innate qualities they possess. It’s kind of like the old ‘nurture or nature’ question. Are people born with it or can they be influenced and taught to behave and work a certain way?

Both my grandfathers were entrepreneurs. Out of sheer need. They were immigrants who had to create businesses in a new country simply because they were uneducated and disconnected to the new country’s culture and systems. It was simply, start a unique business or live in poverty. They were never taught ‘how to run a business’, ‘how to take risks’, ‘how to create a unique value proposition’ or coached to ‘build resilience to cope with ambiguity’ – they simply just did it and learnt as they went along.

So, is university the right place to go if one wants to be an entrepreneur? Isn’t it about just starting and learning along the way?

The reason why I’ve been thinking about this is because a university here in Melbourne will start a new specialisation next year in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I’ve been thinking if there’s something I can contribute to the course and whether it’s valuable to have the course at all.

I’ve decided that it is valuable to have this type of course. I don’t believe it will help someone be more risk taking and want to be an entrepreneur if they didn’t already have that drive or need – so it shouldn’t really teach behavioural stuff. I also don’t believe it will help someone build a successful product or service. But it can be an environment where an entrepreneur-to-be can learn important subjects that can potentially save costly mistakes later on – like tax law, competition law, accounting and finance, human resource management, project management and planning and so forth. A corporate innovation professional-to-be could learn about planning and structuring R&D and processes to guide or lead cross-functional teams as just a couple of examples. And, I think, while these skills and subjects could be picked up in other courses, such as straight business degrees, it is also beneficial to be in an environment where a majority of your peers will have a similar drive to start their own or build businesses. This network will be valuable in years to come.

While I don’t believe we can nurture a desire to want to start businesses or want to make change through better products and services, I do believe that higher education has a place in developing better entrepreneurs and giving people who want to work in corporate innovation, skills, tools and qualifications that will help them succeed. Tomorrow I’m going to contact the university and ask whether I can take part in any course development or teaching activities. 

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