Entrepreneurship is an incredibly hard and difficult profession, involving all of the disciplines and skills taught out of most business schools. Thus the entrepreneur must be an experienced expert from the start and then increase their knowledge to guru level as the business grows. The irony of this evolution is that it is the opposite of how the corporate and university worlds think, and requires entrepreneurs to come at business a completely unique way. Essentially entrepreneurship is like learning to solve a complex puzzle that is constantly changing and without all of the pieces. Hence teaching entrepreneurship is exponentially more incredibly difficult than “simply” starting a business, as the teacher has to understand the development of the idea/business, where the student/entrepreneur thinks it is, and how to make the curriculum relate.
While many entrepreneurs believe that teaching entrepreneurship within institutions, like Universities, is impossible. I believe it is entirely possible but requires a uniquely different approach. For instance asa college graduate I learned how to be proficient in the principles of business management, marketing, and leadership; but I had very little idea of how to apply these in actual business settings. Primarily because most universities tout internships as the place for learning implementation and execution. Now think about that for a moment, how many famous entrepreneurs learned how to excel in business without engaging in the classroom portion…instead focusing all of their attention on figuring it out in the market? (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg along with an army of small businesses have achieved this.) So instead why not build the learning around and within the real world market, thus teaching entrepreneurs experientially?
As a post college serial entrepreneur, I have learned most if not all of my skills and techniques through trial and error…so why can’t other entrepreneurs learn the same way. Though to speed the process up, just plot out the many trials and errors that a typical successful entrepreneur encounters over the course of a decade and tie each plot to a prescribed learning experience. Hypothetically approach could teach students the skills and disciplines necessary to become a successful entrepreneur, while simultaneously demonstrating through first-hand experiences what is required to find customers, build the business operationally and financially, and grow a corporation every step of the way. For the entrepreneurs reading this, just think of major “learning experiences” you have had and how these insights allowed you to succeed later…I bet you could plot the major trials and errors and the insights that helped you later on.
Moreover experiential learning helps students to break out of the “soul-sucking mold” of viewing entrepreneur classes as a path to graduation but rather as a path to learn how to make money, build jobs for others, and help customers. As experiential learning guides, doesn’t demand or dictate, the learning process to help students feel and see how to successfully build companies. Conversely for current entrepreneurs, who are wary and even resist being told the answer, experiential learning allows them to self realize the answers; essentially making them feel like they are teaching themselves and the “teacher” is more of a entrepreneurial zen master solely providing guidance.
So about 5 years ago, I actually decided jump in and try to test this theory out. So I interviewed 50 successful entrepreneurs. Asking them to map out the major “learning experiences” that helped them be successful, and then asking them to outline their process for how they successfully started and grew their businesses. Immediately after I finished interviewing the entrepreneurs I noticed something very peculiar, almost all of the serially successful entrepreneurs were starting and growing their businesses in nearly identical steps.
Experiential Learning Guides, doesn’t dictate, Entrepreneurs on How to Start and Grow Businesses.
From here we decided to try to build a experiential pathway to guide students through sets of experiential activities that were needed to startup a business. Hundreds of aligned experiential activities would walk the students through each step of Learningabout the market, customers base, and the willingness to pay for a solution; Buildingthe team, the solution, and the sales strategy, and finally Selling the solution and strategic partners. The intent was to provide students with experiences to demonstrate how to hone and utilize skills and provide experiential feedback to grow working knowledge. After about 18 months we had a prototype and had 100 people who desired to be entrepreneurs try it. The result was stunning, as among outcomes it yielded a 70% rate of students starting viable businesses and 25% realizing the business idea or model wouldn’t work early on. I am no Einstein, but that seemed like a pretty big win for experiential learning as a viable model entrepreneurial education!
The experiential learning model had some obvious benefits to produce these preliminary results: 1) It uses the successful actions and behaviors of others as a base curriculum for how to teach others, 2) It teaches entrepreneurship in a manner that encourages the individual to think for themselves and learn how to succeed in real situations, and, as previously stated, 3) Entrepreneurs are guided not forced through learning in a way that always makes them feel like they are in control.
While experiential learning will require a strong shift for Universities and institutions to effectively teach entrepreneurship, it is possible and some are already moving in this direction. Further experiential learning as an approach can be customized to the locale and region, allowing Universities, Institutions, or whomever teaches entrepreneurship to guide the adaptation of skills and knowledge in a manner that is congruent with the surrounding culture.
Experiential Learning Yielded Startup Success for 70% of Entrepreneurs!
Just think if experiential learning was used to tap into the experiences of the many successful entrepreneurs that have gone before, how fast universities and institutions could produce entrepreneurs ready to change the world, like building a manufacturing line for free thinking entrepreneurs. This would definitely catapult the United States’ entrepreneurs farther into the lead and would solve the prospect of the coming war of jobs, as Jim Clifton stated so elegantly in “The Coming Jobs War!”