Chapter One: Teaching Entrepreneurship

Many business colleges have Entrepreneurship as a theoretical course. But can it really be taught within four walls?

I have been teaching Entrepreneurship courses at various business schools in Kathmandu for the past few years. One question that I ask my students every time I begin a course is: “Who wants to be an entrepreneur?”

I have observed the number of enthusiastic hands increase every semester. This has made me optimistic about the impact of what I teach and has encouraged me to continuously improve my course and the way I teach it. However, time and again, one question comes to my mind: Can we really teach entrepreneurship in a classroom?

Well, my answer may be biased. That is because if I say no, I would have to stop teaching! However, those of us who teach Entrepreneurship as well as practice it would promptly acknowledge that there is a difference between what a college course can teach and what is needed in the real world. At the same time, we also believe that if we follow a pragmatic approach and make the students aware of idiosyncrasies of entrepreneurship, there are a lot of skills and knowledge that we can transfer inside the classroom.

There are, however, limitations to what we can teach. Entrepreneurs have certain personality traits like the ability to take risks and work with minimum information and persevere in difficult times. Those who are skeptical about entrepreneurship courses claim that it is these traits that cannot be taught in a classroom.

They maintain that entrepreneurship is messy, uncertain and unpredictable, and therefore there is no single method or map to entrepreneurship. Even if there were such things, a professor or a teacher who has no experience in the business world would not have them. Entrepreneurship is not limited to business skills (such as marketing, accounting and finance) that are easy to teach in the classroom, they say.

Human skills of leadership, team work and general management are all best-learned through real-work experience. Look at entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Mark Zukerberg. They are all people whose works defy the notion of classroom-based entrepreneurial education.

It is now a well-established fact that entrepreneurship can’t be taught through traditional classroom lectures. It is very much an experiential subject that requires “learning by doing”— that is, action and interaction with the real world to find product /market fit.

So what are we teaching in entrepreneurship courses? The fact is that we can teach most, if not all, ‘activities’ related to launching and running an entrepreneurial venture.  This is because, at the end of the day, these are fundamental business skills and processes applicable to any new firm.

We can teach students how to write a great business plan, develop a great marketing strategy and produce financial projections.  By doing so, we can teach the ‘activities’ that makeup the act of ‘entrepreneurship’ (starting and growing a venture).

Additionally, the would-be entrepreneurs need research and market survey skills to help them discover new opportunities and assess the ‘attractiveness’ of an industry. They can learn from other people’s stories — of both success and failure — while managing difficult and uncertain transitions in all stages of their entrepreneurial journey.

I have to admit that the real-life entrepreneurship activities and processes are more tortuous than in any plain class room activity. We, therefore, should focus on bringing action and ‘doing’ into the classrooms. In Nepal, we are lagging in these aspects. Many, if not all, schools offering entrepreneurship courses at Bachelors and Masters levels, have adopted the same pedagogy used in other courses. As a result, students have not benefitted from the courses as they should have done.

For now, I conclude by saying that learning about ‘entrepreneurship’ is about learning whether the challenging realm of entrepreneurship is the right course in life for you.

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