The theory of practice

Business schools can spur entrepreneurship through curriculum and culture. The key is to create an environment that encourages team learning and student initiative, allowing the entrepreneurial mindset to blossom, says INSEAD dean Dipak C. Jain

Dipak C. Jain, dean of INSEAD

Entrepreneurship is a mindset. It is a way of engaging the world that joyfully explores the possible rather than surrendering to the inevitable hurdles in the road.

Entrepreneurs have a passion to turn ideas into action. Their motivations and methods are different from those associated with traditional university scholarship, where theoretical concerns may trump practical ones and consensus views can take years to emerge. Yet, business schools - where entrepreneurship is taught -find themselves within an academic framework whose traditions go back centuries.

But even among their B-school peers, entrepreneurs distinguish themselves as people driven by a sense of practical immediacy. Their initiatives usually focus on solving specific real-world problems. Entrepreneurship seems an intrinsically community-oriented and collaborative activity, since it tries to make day-to-day life better for others. In doing so, its practitioners may engage with many different partners. Certainly this is the case with social entrepreneurs, those who create value that improves conditions for groups of people, perhaps by devising new ways to deliver medicines or other resources.

Business schools can spur entrepreneurial studies through culture, curriculum, and competitions.

Reverse mentoring

If we accept that entrepreneurship involves much collaboration and inventive thinking, then we know why schools must create an environment that encourages team learning and student initiative. Equally important, schools should genuinely engage students and embrace their ideas. This “reverse mentoring” or two-way learning challenges both faculty and students to be their best, and it respects students as the co-creators of their education. It also provides an arena to develop entrepreneurial instincts. Informal peer-to-peer interaction, as through student interest groups, is a valuable complement to formal learning.

Of course, strong courses in entrepreneurship are essential. These include action-learning opportunities that teach students how to create a business plan and pursue venture funding. Courses in risk management, strategy, and technology innovation, among others, provide would-be entrepreneurs with the tools for success. Exposure to entrepreneurial models that meet the needs of emerging markets offer additional insight for prospective social entrepreneurs. Intensive, multi-day entrepreneurship “boot camps” can provide a wealth of foundational knowledge through lectures and workshops to augment formal learning. Programmes such as entrepreneurs-in-residence can bring successful entrepreneurs to campus to mentor and engage students.

Safe-to-fail environments

Business plan competitions are another way to extend entrepreneurial education. These events provide a forum for students to sharpen and refine their ideas about new venture formulation, and to test the insights they gain in the classroom by bringing a business plan to life. Competitions, especially those with prestigious judges and the chance to win venture funding, create a real-world simulation whose pressure gives students a taste of what actual entrepreneurship entails - while still remaining a “safe-to-fail” environment that lets students truly pursue their ideas.

These events convey prestige, recognition, and reward to encourage entrepreneurship. They can serve as a way for business schools to partner with other schools, such as design and engineering, medicine, or law to pursue cross-disciplinary opportunities by bringing together students from disparate backgrounds - as might well happen after graduation. Business plan competitions also give schools another way to engage their successful alumni, perhaps as judges or sponsors for the events. These relationships hold promise for bringing the best student business plans to fruition, perhaps as part of a venture associated with the school’s graduates. The school itself could create a partnership with its students to support early stage ventures with the agreement that a portion of future profits gets channelled back into the school’s entrepreneurship programme, seeding the next generation of scholarship.

As a global market, we are moving toward greater entrepreneurialism, one driven by citizen engagement and innovation sparked by technological advances that permit increased collaboration and idea sharing. Business schools can play a leadership role in this transformation through integrating entrepreneurial thinking into their curriculum and culture.

Dipak C. Jain is the Dean of INSEAD

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Related subjects: Entrepreneurship, Business schools, culture