Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

By Klein, Peter G.; Bullock, J. Bruce | Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

Klein, Peter G., Bullock, J. Bruce, Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

Is entrepreneurship an innate ability or an acquired skill? Can entrepreneurial acumen be achieved and enhanced through education and training, or are certain people "born" to be entrepreneurs or to act entrepreneurially? Economists and management theorists give widely divergent answers to these questions. This paper reviews the major approaches to teaching entrepreneurship, primarily at the undergraduate level, and relates them to economic theories of entrepreneurship. Surprisingly, we find little connection between the leading approaches to entrepreneurship education and economists' understanding of the entrepreneurial function. We assess likely explanations for the lack of contact between these two groups of scholars and suggest possible improvements.

Key Words: alertness, entrepreneurship, innovation, opportunity identification, resource acquisition, uncertainty bearing

JEL Classifications: M13, A22, O31

Entrepreneurship is one of the fastest-growing subjects at U.S. colleges and universities (Gartner and Vesper; Solomon, Duffy, and Tarabishy). Entrepreneurship courses, programs, and activities are emerging not only in schools of business, but throughout college curricula. In 2003, U.S. colleges and universities offered over 2,200 entrepreneurship courses at over 1,600 schools, supported by 277 endowed faculty positions, several dozen refereed academic journals, and more than 100 funded centers (Kuratko). Entrepreneurship became a Division (specialized interest group) within the Academy of Management in 1987. While the field remains a minority specialization among business school faculty (Katz), during the 1990s the number of entrepreneurship positions increased by over 250% and the number of candidates nearly doubled (Finkle and Deeds). Besides the usual business school offerings, courses in social entrepreneurship, family business management, technical entrepreneurship, performing arts entrepreneurship, and the like are popping up in colleges of arts and sciences, engineering, education, social work, and even fine arts.

Colleges of agriculture and life sciences are also expressing interest. Several agricultural economics and agribusiness programs, including those at Texas A&M, Purdue, Vermont, and Cornell offer entrepreneurship majors, minors, or concentrations, and many more departments offer individual courses in entrepreneurship. Since 1998 the national FFA has offered a program in agri-entrepreneurship. The University of Missouri-Columbia's College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources established an endowed chair in entrepreneurial leadership in 2004 and is working to develop a college minor in entrepreneurship.

While this explosion of interest in entrepreneurship education is a relatively recent phenomenon, economists have been thinking systematically about entrepreneurship since at least the eighteenth century. The concept of entrepreneurship is central to Schumpeter's theory of economic development, Knight's explanation of profit and the firm, Kirzner's account of the market process, and Schultz's theory of technological adoption and diffusion. Yet, most of the literature and teaching materials on entrepreneurship education are only tangentially linked to underlying economic theories of entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurship curriculum at many colleges and universities tends to focus primarily on new venture formation and the mechanics of small-business management-routine management tasks, relationships with venture capitalists and other sources of external finance, product development, marketing, and so on. Other courses focus on the personal psychological characteristics of those who found their own companies. While these are undoubtedly important issues, they have little to do with the concerns of Schumpeter, Knight, Kirzner, or Schultz. Few of the major economic theories of entrepreneurship emphasize new ventures over existing ones, small businesses over large ones, or particular personality types, for example. …

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