Entrepreneurs: nature or nurture?

Entrepreneurs: nature or nurture?

“Earlier this year, the Government’s enterprise advisor, Lord Young of Graffham, told the Student and Graduate Entrepreneurship conference that higher education needed to “instill the very concept of enterprise into young people…and every undergraduate should have a short course on setting up their own company.”

“With a graduate jobs market in difficulty I completely applaud this sentiment – we do need to create opportunity early and give graduates the mindset to achieve. But I’m still cynical about whether entrepreneurship can really be taught.

“The operations and mechanics of running a business can undoubtedly be learned, but at its heart, entrepreneurship is the act of taking an idea and turning it into a well-run, sustainable operation.

“The key skills of sparking somebody’s imagination of creativity, boldness and the desire to take risks, are instincts – and it stands to reason that therefore some people will be more suited to entrepreneurship than others.

“When interviewing for our own Entrepreneurship graduate programmes at Cause4, we quite often come across graduates who in our school system are ‘spoon-fed’ to pass exams – they often don’t deal well with ambiguity, nor do they think that they can grab a space or opportunity without somebody giving them permission.

“If I was to stereotype – my main frustration would be that this cohort of Generation Y – are not curious enough. The desire for knowledge, to understand how things work – and then to be suitably disruptive as entrepreneurs is a definite instinctive judgement, and will override any structure or rote learning found in our school system.

“For me, teaching entrepreneurship, as with any other subject or skill set, is not necessarily about the end goal of setting up and owning a business, but is more about learning a set of skills, a mindset and developing people.

“We need to encourage those able to effect change from within an organisation – intrapreneurship – as well as those emerging as entrepreneurs.

“Not every child is born to be an entrepreneur, just as not every child would wish to become a doctor, teacher or scientist, but the concepts of enterprise well-taught can radically change the mindset and culture within established businesses, vital skills for survival in a depressed economy.

“I also think that we are in danger of forgetting the role of life experience for those starting businesses. There are well-known exceptions to the rule of incredibly successful young entrepreneurs, but if the statistics are right and the majority of successful entrepreneurs will start in their 40s, then we’ve got a responsibility to make sure that we don’t make it seem like setting up a business is a possibility for any school leaver, nor that a bit of class-room training is going to be enough.

“One of the best enterprise development programmes that I’ve come across is the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses programme – some academic teaching, support from industry experts in creating a new growth plan and a brilliant network.

“All the facets of a great programme that can support established small businesses to up their game. But even here, I wonder about the class-room bit.

“Does academic theory really help the entrepreneur, or is the tough feedback from peers and industry experts more important? I do know that concentrating in a classroom was at times a testing experience for this rather distracted, overworked entrepreneur.

“My instinct is already that the very best help that an early stage entrepreneur can get is some tough love and critical feedback.

“If only one in three start up businesses are still standing after three years then let’s prevent the failures that often happen by really interrogating the concept, its customers and scalability at an early stage, and push as Alice in Wonderland might attest to, to be ‘curioser and curioser’ in establishing the right knowledge and networks.

Perhaps the question should not be ‘can entrepreneurship be taught’, but rather can its principles and concepts be applied to the real world?”

Cause4 is a consultancy advising not-for-profit organisations and charities. The company has worked with the Barbican Centre, National Gallery and the Roundhouse.

Finance News – Business news from the UK and world


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.