Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


The Entrepreneurs We Need

We are in an era of great change. We need people that can not only manage in such an environment, but thrive in it! We need people that can sort through the chaos and the onslaught of seemingly contradictory information and identify the heart of the problem that needs solving. We need people that can conceive unique and creative solutions to those identified problems. We need people that can test the feasibility of those solutions before we commit hundreds of labor-hours and millions of pounds towards the creation of those solutions. We then, of course, need people that can create an actionable plan to bring those solutions to life. Then we need people that can efficiently and effectively resource those plans (both in terms of human and financial capital) and to manage the growth of the executed plan.

In short we need entrepreneurs, as these are precisely these skill-sets that entrepreneurs embody.

And we need lots of these entrepreneurs in all segments of our society. And we need them now, before our world is enveloped by the chaos. The apprentice model of old will not create the volume of entrepreneurs the world needs. We need higher education to help drive their development. Fortunately this is occurring, at least in part. A recent Kauffman Foundation study revealed that today over 1,500 U.S. colleges and universities offer some form of entrepreneurship training, whereas only a handful did just 15 years ago. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the majority of these programs are simply institutionalized versions of the old apprentice model; students with “good ideas” are mentored in realizing these ideas. It is an outcome-driven versus a process-driven pedagogy. We teach no other higher-education subject in this fashion. Imagine on your first day of your first university class in material science the instructor saying, “Who has an idea for a new material? We’ll form teams around those that do and spend the rest of the term creating those materials.” What?!?

Worse is that we are missing half the education that entrepreneurs need. These outcome-driven pedagogies are so focused on operationalizing the concept that they miss identifying the core issue that needs addressing. The complex problems the world faces today cannot be solved by randomly tossing spaghetti-solutions against the wall and waiting to see what sticks. Determining the essence of the issue that truly needs solved is at least half the challenge. We can no longer afford to continue to ignore this half of their entrepreneurial education.

Frustrated with this condition, I spent over a decade at the University of Michigan studying successful serial entrepreneurs and experimenting with a variety of approaches to help students acquire all six of the fundamental entrepreneurial skills addressed in the first paragraph. The Entrepreneurial Arch is the result of that quest. The Arch portions the non-linear entrepreneurial process into six interrelated segments; each segment focusing on a specific entrepreneurial skill. The Arch has two three-segment halves: business discovery and business execution. Concepts are discovered and tested in the discovery half before any time is spent on their execution. The book takes a “fail-fast” approach to concept development by layering on increasing amounts of detail only after high-level reality-checks are successfully passed. The book describes a highly interactive process that sends you back to the previous segments for reshaping when current concepts fail. The methodology introduces new techniques as well as appropriately incorporating the latest education elements (customer discovery and lean startup, to name just two) into a holistic approach to entrepreneurship education. The book is laced with real-world examples that illustrate a methodology aimed at increasing the development of those much-needed entrepreneurs.

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