Nature or nurture? As in many fields dealing with human beings, you will also find that in entrepreneurship the question is asked whether entrepreneurs are born or made. If the answer is that they are born then the conversation should stop right here. If entrepreneurs are born, if there is no learning that can add to an eventual success or limit a failure, then there is no point in studying it and the growth of so many entrepreneurship certificate programs out there will be ultimately of no use to anyone.
We can experience anecdotally and it has been shown in studies that in regions where there are many small to medium enterprises (yes which have been started by entrepreneurs), you find healthier more robust economies. Not all of these companies remain entrepreneurial. For example there are many entrepreneurial activities that go into opening a franchise or a dentist office, but generally after they are up and running they turn into management and operations oriented companies and lose their entrepreneurial flavor of expansion and constant innovation. Others seek to continue to grow and expand and retain that entrepreneurial spirit. Some scale up into major influential organizations. We can rattle off lists of well known start-ups that have become household names, e.g. Microsoft, Google, Mapquest, Facebook. Note that so many of the fast growth familiar companies are technology companies, however there are also financial, medical and many other product and service oriented companies and ministries that are started every day. Examples of ministry oriented entrepreneurial ventures might be the “40 Days of Purpose” venture or the “Business as Mission” companies that are setting hearts on fire around the globe for God!
But back to the original question, can entrepreneurship be learned? Of course there are those with innate entrepreneurial talent and abilities, people who could not work for someone else if they tried. They have idea after idea and can seemingly naturally find and combine the necessary resources to launch venture after venture. However, upon closer examination, these entrepreneurs have indeed learned the ropes somewhere, just perhaps not in a traditional classroom. In bible times (as in many countries around the world today) trades and business skills were all learned on the job. Would we recognize anyone as entrepreneurial in the bible? Business and various trades form the backdrop of the events and life portrayed. Think of the early businesses of tent-making, domesticating and raising livestock, the making and playing of instruments and tools of bronze and iron, carpentry, weaving for clothing and rugs, vineyards, clay pots, baking and the trading of them all (markets and trade routes). There was much business created, learned and passed down from generation to generation.
There are other types of people who might never be entrepreneurs and would never seek to be such. However many successful entrepreneurs have received their business educations in more formal classroom settings and yes, have even learned how to create a new venture in an entrepreneurship program. One MBA student here at the College of Adult and Graduate Studies did a research project on the topic of entrepreneurship education and success. Her findings concluded that having an entrepreneurship education seemed to contribute to more success for a greater number of people than not having one.
It is similar to being an artist such as a painter or musician. Sure there are many artists with natural talent but that talent may be very rough. Without some guidance and education in skills, techniques, the varieties of mediums and materials available, styles of music and lessons in how to play or paint (even if self-taught) the natural talent will remain rough and many mistakes will be made along the way. Take that raw talent and teach it, mold it, direct it, show it examples of “good and bad” “successful and unsuccessful” offerings, and that artist can leap forward. It is not necessary to learn everything by trial and error. For instance, does each painter need to start from zero and invent paint brushes? No somewhere along the way, they learn that paint brushes exist and that there are dozens of different types for a variety of different effects and purposes. Data show that the average entrepreneur has three failures before he or she has what is thought of as a success (whether these entrepreneurs had an education in business is not part of the reporting unfortunately). But it is intuitive that with some training and education, many mistakes can be avoided and the artist can begin to create art or music earlier and with more skill regardless of how much natural talent they may possess. The same is true for the entrepreneur. Some have much natural ability, others less. However wherever the starting point, much can be learned about business and how to harness the resources to launch that amazing idea.
At the College of Adult and Graduate Studies, we offer a four course emphasis in entrepreneurship with the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration which can also be taken as a stand-alone certificate. Both are offered in an accelerated format either online or in our CAGS hybrid classroom that combines in-seat and online learning at various centers throughout Colorado. Two of the four courses provide practical hands-on experience through simulation software, and the other two are focused on self-assessment, idea generation, and social, sustainable and mission entrepreneurship. Yes, the would-be entrepreneur could do it all on his or her own starting from scratch and learning by doing. But why not shorten the time-frame, leap-frog over the mistakes of others and increase the chances that those initial entrepreneurial ventures will be successful? That is what an entrepreneurship education can do!
By Dr. Mellani Day – Dean, Business and Technology Division, College of Adult and Graduate Studies