Germany needs more entrepreneurs. But while recent surveys agree that 25% to 30% of young scientists have good chances for creating a start-up, only 5% currently dare to take this step. In our ongoing series, Next Wave Germany and the Berlin Institute of Entrepreneurship have invited leading experts to discuss ways in which the Culture of Entrepreneurship can be fostered at German Universities. This week, with an essay from William D. Bygrave, Professor for Free Enterprise at Babson College, Massachusetts, we turn to the US for ideas on how to inject an entrepreneurial flavor into university education.
Entrepreneurship is the "liberal arts" of a business education. In contrast to a vocational education, which trains students for specific professions and crafts, a liberal arts education educates individuals to be "free" to do whatever they find to be interesting. It challenges students to behave both as generalists and specialists, to be creators and creative problem solvers rather than dreamers, to reason conceptually but to implement pragmatically. Perhaps above all else, it encourages students to be independent thinkers, to become entrepreneurial leaders. There is no finer education in the management sciences.
Almost every major university in the USA now teaches entrepreneurship. It is recognized as an academic discipline. In fact, it is the fastest growing major discipline in U.S. business schools. I believe that entrepreneurship has become so popular in many leading U.S. universities because of the way in which we teach it. We build on what is a core American value: respect for the individual. A key manifestation of that belief is the Socratic method of learning in which every student is encouraged to express his or her ideas no matter how different they might be from conventional wisdom. As well as fostering independent thinking, the U.S. education system encourages creativity and individual initiative. When you combine independent thinking, creativity, and individual initiative in a society where entrepreneurs are among its most respected members, you have an environment in which many young persons start new ventures.
What are the key elements in teaching entrepreneurship? In the classroom, we use the case method in which students learn by reading, analyzing, and discussing how actual entrepreneurs start and build businesses. Frequently, the entrepreneur and other principals visit the classroom and thereby are real-life role models for students. Outside the classroom, students compete in business plan competitions; they start their fledgling businesses in campus "hatcheries;" they are supported with seed capital from university-run venture funds; they work with young entrepreneurial companies; and they attend formal and informal meetings with well-known entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, investment bankers, lawyers, and others involved in the entrepreneurial process.
At some schools, entrepreneurship is diffused throughout the curriculum. Babson College is perhaps the most complete example of this. Every undergraduate and graduate student studies entrepreneurship as an integral part of the core curriculum. At Babson, the entrepreneurial spirit is a way of thinking and a way of behaving by students, faculty, administrators, trustees, alumni, friends, parents... indeed, everyone associated with the institution.