When I first encountered enterprise education it was largely a process of education ‘about’ enterprise and entrepreneurship – we were teaching a reasonably dry and information-heavy syllabus about largely high-tech entrepreneurship and big businesses. There was quite a lot of theory and abstract analysis of entrepreneurial activity but little practical content on how to do it.
What is enterprise education?
In October 2012 Enterprise Educators UK (EEUK) and a host of other UK expert individuals and groups worked with the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) to produce the first UK guidelines for teaching Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education in the curriculum.
This usefully included some definitions I’ll share here: “Enterprise: the application of creative ideas and innovations to practical situations” and “Entrepreneurship: the application of enterprise skills specifically to creating and growing organisations in order to identify and build on opportunities.”
To extrapolate from that Enterprise Education is thus education which develops the capacity for students to generate and demonstrate how ideas are developed into innovative products and services which deliver cultural, economic, environmental, intellectual, and social value. This involves a mix of business & market awareness, professional skills development, and mindset development around personal values, motivation, risk-tolerance, and opportunity assessment. Entrepreneurship education develops specific knowledge on how to start a venture that capitalises on that idea.
How does it work & how is it applied?
Enterprise education has evolved into a syllabus that educates ‘for’ enterprise and entrepreneurship; using experiential learning to equip students to create new businesses. In fact an interview presentation in 2008 for what later became my current role was on the subject of ‘education for or about enterprise’ (I argued a case for both!) This school of education ‘for’ thought ranged from very practical advice on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of registering companies, creating patents, writing profit and loss forecasts and so on to the ‘entrepreneurial life-world’ approach which looked at the attitudes, motivations, skills, and contextualisation of the entrepreneur and their enterprising behaviour.
This did open doors for enterprise educators to reach new audiences, but access was still by and large limited to programmes of study where entrepreneurship was well-recognised and seen to be a valid exit for students graduating from that degree course.
It’s education ‘through’ enterprise and entrepreneurship that is really widening the application and appeal of enterprise education at present. Through the study of enterprise and entrepreneurship, we can get to a variety of other ends.
Understanding any form of business
Firstly, it’s a useful microcosm for understanding any form of business – and for seeing the overarching business model that you might find hard to perceive in a massive multinational. Commercial awareness is the primary by-product of enterprise education and increasingly that commercial awareness is critical to the employability of graduates.
Secondly, it builds awareness of the wider world of work – partly that students should be aware that the graduate recruiters they see on their campuses are not the be-all and end-all of employment as most companies are in fact SMEs. It is also critical that students see the ‘business ecosystem’ of different companies, products, services and roles that exist. The hidden world of business-to-business supply chains is enormous. Letting students see this world helps their commercial awareness and gives them greater perspective and opportunity when they’re planning routes into employment.
An experiential component is critical to enterprise education
Thirdly enterprise education that includes a strong experiential component is a valuable proving ground for skills development, professional behaviours, and establishing competency and confidence in work-related activities. This helps students identify their own strengths, weaknesses and preferences and to develop and enhance competencies useful far beyond business start-up. Communication, teamwork, negotiation, decision-making, resource acquisition, and opportunity evaluation – these are all skills with day-to-day applications in all walks of life and work.
Student experience agenda
Fourthly it can help deliver on the ‘student experience’ agenda – the lived experience of a student at a particular institution. This is again increasingly important to institutions competing for students. By encouraging students who organise and deliver clubs, societies, volunteering, and similar projects to engage in enterprise and entrepreneurship learning we can enhance the quality of the activities they run, providing a better service to other students. We’re also delivering enterprise education ‘through’ the medium of helping them run a better activity.
Can you teach enterprise and entrepreneurship in education?
Certainly, not all of it can be easily taught – there is a lot of mindset and attitude around entrepreneurship for example – but this can nevertheless be learnt in the right environment. While traditional teaching can impart some of the knowledge that future entrepreneurs might need most enterprise educators are using a variety of experiential teaching methods to create environments in which students learn skills and self-efficacy by doing. We use simulations, we build challenges set in real-world activities, we use case studies of real companies, we invite in real entrepreneurs or customers, and we set practical activities that test presentation skills, teamwork, commercial analysis and more.
Why would you teach it?
Government and Universities increasingly wish to create commercially aware, highly-skilled, self-aware and self-confident graduates who will add value to society through the development and delivery of social and commercial enterprise – either through their own start-up or by adding intrapreneurial value to existing organisations.
It should be stressed that enterprise, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and innovation are not solely the preserve of physical sciences, engineering and technology research – they are an equally valid and important part of Arts, Social Science, and Medical research. Neither is it the case that these terms refer exclusively to commercial models of business – raising awareness of social and cultural enterprise only serves to highlight how a degree of business acumen can help anyone make sure their ideas bear fruit through transforming society and culture for the better.
We have recognised the value that entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial behaviour plays in the development of world-class graduates and researchers. Spotting and seizing opportunities, building networks of value, and exploring the value and impact of ideas beyond traditional frameworks are all part of both the academic research landscape and the employability profile required by students completing their university studies.
Enterprise Education is not mutually exclusive with conventional subject content, employability development, or public engagement. It is in fact an excellent vehicle for delivering all of those things. Nationally there is a move away from teaching enterprise and entrepreneurship as an isolated subject – it is increasingly being embedded in other subject disciplines including History, Biochemistry, Veterinary Science, and Engineering. Everyone needs to be enterprising even if we don’t all need to be entrepreneurs.
Impact of the enterprise agenda in education
Finally, it helps deliver impacts. Enterprise and entrepreneurship education has a focus on innovation, on enacting ideas with value. Within academia, there is an increased focus on delivering impacts from research, and we can use enterprise education to build capacity amongst our current and future researchers to create impactful research.
In practice, most enterprise or entrepreneurship education will deliver value ‘through’ alongside value ‘for’ and ‘about’. What is significant between these distinctions is how an institution strategically makes use of enterprise education for diverse goals. It’s not just a niche interest in a business school or engineering faculty – it’s a methodology for delivering all kinds of institutional agendas.