In recent years, educational institutions have tried to respond to the growing popularity of entrepreneurship by offering a variety of courses in entrepreneurship and small business management. The thrust of such courses varies according to the clientele at which they are aimed. Generally speaking, they serve as an introduction to the entrepreneurial field, provide the skills, knowledge and abilities required to start a venture and lastly, try to awaken and stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit of participants. However, we still do not know very much about the effectiveness of the various pedagogical approaches used to achieve any of these educational objectives. In light of this, a class experiment was conducted among a group of Commerce undergraduate students. These students were given a choice between two term projects in an entrepreneurship course: a business plan or a field study. The objective of the experiment was to measure the impact of completing these different assignments on: 1) the students' perceptions of the desirability and feasibility of starting their own venture, 2) their learning in terms of either skills or knowledge, and 3) their level of awareness to entrepreneurship and the small business context.
Several paradigms exist in the field of Entrepreneurship to explain the phenomenon of new venture creation. Logically, the pedagogical approach favored by an instructor to increase the level of entrepreneurial activity among participants should be a function of his own understanding of the factors leading to the start-up of new ventures. For example, it is expected that those who adhere to the Trait approach will try to develop among participants personality traits such as the need for achievement, self-confidence or creativity. For those others who believe that entrepreneurial intentions are the best predictor of venture creation, efforts will be made to develop and strengthen these intentions. It is such a behavioral intention model that we tested in a classroom environment.
The decision to start a business and the actions taken to implement such a decision undoubtedly qualify as planned behavior. According to Ajzen's (1991) theory of planned behavior, an individual's intention to perform a given behavior is a quite accurate predictor of the actual performance of such behavior. In the context of new venture creation, this means that an individual's intention to start a business should be a good indicator that this individual will indeed start his own firm. According to Shapero and Sokol's model of the Entrepreneurial Event (1982), the intention to initiate a venture is largely driven by one's perception of the desirability and feasibility of such endeavour. Perceived desirability or attractiveness of a behavior will be influenced by the individual's attitude towards the behavior and social norms, that is, the perception of what important people in one's life think about the intended behavior. Perceived feasibility, often associated to the self-efficacy concept, refers to the capacity and ability to execute a given task or behavior.
Several studies have found considerable support for the hypothesis that perceptions of desirability and feasibility form entrepreneurial intentions (Krueger, Reilly & Carsrud, forthcoming; Reitan, 1996). From an educational perspective, this means that the best way for an instructor to increase the level of entrepreneurial activities of his students is to impact on their perceptions of the desirability and feasibility of starting a venture, thereby increasing the strength of their entrepreneurial intentions.
In this experiment, students were given the choice of either completing a business plan or a field study. In the first assignment ("the business plan"), students were asked to find a business idea, perform a market research to assess its commercial potential and develop a comprehensive business plan around this business opportunity. …