Entrepreneurship Education: Known Worlds and New Frontiers

By Neck, Heidi M.; Greene, Patricia G. | Journal of Small Business Management, January 2011 | Go to article overview
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Entrepreneurship Education: Known Worlds and New Frontiers

Neck, Heidi M., Greene, Patricia G., Journal of Small Business Management

We explore three "worlds" that entrepreneurship educators generally teach in and introduce a new frontier where we discuss teaching entrepreneurship as a method. The method is a way of thinking and acting, built on a set of assumptions using a portfolio of techniques to create. It goes beyond understanding, knowing, and talking and requires using, applying, and acting. At the core of the method is the ability for students to practice entrepreneurship and we introduce a portfolio of practice-based pedagogies. These include starting businesses as coursework, serious games and simulations, design-based thinking, and reflective practice.


Entrepreneurship is complex, chaotic, and lacks any notion of linearity. As educators, we have the responsibility to develop the discovery, reasoning, and implementation skills of our students so they may excel in highly uncertain environments. These skills enhance the likelihood that our students will identify and capture the right opportunity at the right time for the right reason. However, this is a significant responsibility and challenge. The current approaches to entrepreneurship education are based on a world of yesterday--a world where precedent was the foundation for future action, where history often did predict the future. Yet, entrepreneurship is about creating new opportunities and executing in uncertain and even currently unknowable environments. Entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education have more relevance today than ever before.

For many years, it was popular to ask, "Can entrepreneurship be taught?" As educators, we always said, "yes, of course" and went on to list the myriad of reasons rehearsed in advance of such questions. Our answers might include, "it is a skill set," or "we have been doing it for years," or "it depends what you mean by entrepreneurship." In reality and upon reflection in looking at the future of entrepreneurship education, we may be willing to admit that we were wrong and willing to consider alternative explanations. Might it be that entrepreneurship, using current popular approaches, cannot really be taught and that real-world experience actually does supersede an expensive college education? Just look at Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Mary Kay Ash, and Debbie Fields who are all incredibly successful entrepreneurs without a college degree. Should their success signal anything to entrepreneurship educators? Not really. For every Bill Gates, there are a million entrepreneurs who experience "in the real world" dramatic, life-altering failure that we do not read about in the popular press.

We know what you are thinking. First, we say entrepreneurship cannot be taught. Then we suggest that experience supersedes education. Finally, we say ignore Bill, Steve, Richard, Mary Kay, and Debbie--the kings and queens of learning entrepreneurship outside the ivory tower of the academy. Confused? Our confusion is intentional to illustrate where we arc as educators in the dynamic, cross-disciplinary field of entrepreneurship. The academic field and practical field of entrepreneurship have consistently been at odds throughout the years, but such conflict has led to a rich and diverse pool of collaborative educators--academics, entrepreneurs, consultants, investors, full-time, part-time, academically qualified, and professionally qualified--with a common understanding that entrepreneurship education is important. Across the field, there are differences in how we approach teaching entrepreneurship.

Given the multidisciplinary field of entrepreneurship, the content covered in most entrepreneurship courses is far-reaching. An entrepreneurship educator is often expected to know everything about every field. It is not uncommon to teach aspects of strategy, finance, law, human resources, leadership, marketing, accounting, operations, and ethics in any given class. The next class might offer perspectives from sociology, anthropology, and business history.

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Entrepreneurship Education: Known Worlds and New Frontiers


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