Tensions in Entrepreneurship Education: Defining ‘Entrepreneurship’
Published On Wed 20 Mar 2019 by Katherine G. Southern
In this series, I will be examining some of the tensions that exist in the relatively new field of entrepreneurial education. In this instalment, I’ll be looking at how different definitions of ‘entrepreneurship’ affect methods of education.
While I was in my final year of my undergraduate degree, my college started a new program aimed at increasing entrepreneurship in the student body. As part of this venture, the college opened an ‘Idea Lab’ on the second floor of the library. The space featured paper, drawing supplies, a 3D printer, computers, Legos, sewing machines, and more. While I appreciated the easy access to craft supplies, I was a bit confused—I had thought that ‘entrepreneurship’ meant starting a business.
What has become clear to me since I have started working at the University of Dundee’s Centre for Entrepreneurship is that the term entrepreneurship means different things to different people. When higher educational institutions talk about the importance of teaching entrepreneurship, they may use the term narrowly to refer to the concrete skills needed for starting a business, such as identification of opportunities, development of a business plan, procurement of venture capital, etc. Or, they may use the term ‘entrepreneurship’ in a wider sense to refer to essential ‘soft skills’ such as exercising creativity, self-reliance, initiative-taking, etc.
A higher educational institution’s strategies for teaching and measuring the success of entrepreneurial education depend on which definition is used. When a school defines ‘entrepreneurship’ narrowly, educational efforts will be focused on students who are committed to taking a business idea forward. Such a program might create business incubators or offer elective courses for these committed students. Teachers and others will measure the program’s success by tracking the number of successful enterprises students create, the amount of revenue these enterprises generate, and the number of jobs created through them. By contrast, if a school defines the term in the wider sense, then entrepreneurial initiatives could be applied to a much broader range of students. Such a university might create an ‘Idea Lab’ like the one at my college, which was used to promote creativity in the student body. Success will be measured by students’ ability to demonstrate traits such as ingenuity and resilience.
I don’t think that one definition is inherently superior to the other. It is important, though, to be clear about which definition is being used, since this will guide the formation of learning outcomes and instruction. A strength of the Centre for Entrepreneurship is that we have created a range of initiatives, some of which rely on a narrow definition of ‘entrepreneurship’ and some of which employ a wide one. The Venture Competition, for example, is aimed at a people who are very serious about starting a business, while the Enterprise Challenge is focused more broadly on teaching a wide range of entrepreneurial skills. This mixed approach gives all students the opportunity to learn entrepreneurial skills, whether that means starting a business or learning how to think more creatively about all of their endeavours.
In the next instalment of this serious, I’ll be examining how debates over entrepreneurial education reflect historical tensions between progressive and traditional forms of education.
 Lackéus, Martin. "Entrepreneurship in education: What, why, when, how." Background Paper (2015).