Can entrepreneurship be taught?

Can entrepreneurship be taught?

“Entrepreneurs are born, not made. It is in the DNA – or mostly, it is not. You cannot acquire passion (for entrepreneurship that is) in the classroom.” These comments reflect the global opinion on this topic. Add the formidable ‘business community’ factor and you have a pretty water-tight case against the motion in India.

Traditionally, we have believed that ‘business is in the blood’ of the trading communities amidst us – the marwaris, chettiars, banias and others, hence, the continued stranglehold of families in business that has now extended to politics. The eco-system of breakfast-to-dinner business education, family funds, access to service providers, chartered accountants for instance, and regulators (a ‘must’ for old economy industries), incubation within the family business and mentoring by elders, enabled members of the business community to pursue opportunity and take risk for venture creation.

The new Indian entrepreneur

However, the passage of time and significantly, the breakdown of barriers – mindset and access – have brought about increasing keenness for entrepreneurship among all Indians. The phenomenon of stand alone or first generation entrepreneurs is indisputable testimony to the fact that in India today, both community and ‘brahmin’ originated entrepreneurs are feasible. Sustaining this phenomenon is the emergence of an inclusive eco-system, more similar to that prevalent in the developed world.

This breakthrough in thought and action has shown that entrepreneurs can be made too. Leading to the inevitable inference that they can be ‘made better’. This is where entrepreneurship education comes in substituting for on-site education in family businesses.

What do you teach in entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship education is based on the core premise laid down by guru Howard Stevenson, the Sarofim-Rock Baker Foundation Professor of Entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School, that entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources you currently control. Stemming from this premise, the required knowledge, skills and attitude need to be taught. Starting with creating the belief within students that they can become entrepreneurs, that entrepreneurship is far more of perspiration, mental and experimental, than of inspiration. Pertinent questions beget pertinent answers, answers that are not necessarily elusive to first generation entrepreneurs. How should an entrepreneur recognise and assess opportunity for profitable growth, how does (s)he pursue the opportunity in stages and manage risk through sharing resources and responsibilities. Forecasting cash flows and identifying sources of funds, introduction to venture capital, angel investors, strategic investors and other means of support. How to manage relationships since an entrepreneur has to co-ordinate and control resources as (s)he does not own most of them, specially money.

Faculty can go beyond teaching to play matchmaker for budding entrepreneurs seeking management teams, advisors and investors. And in the words of a participant of the Start Your Business Program offered by S P Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), the faculty “opened my eyes to the idea that I can be bigger than a local coaching class. I can create a national venture for enabling employability of under-graduates in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities.” On the flip side, it also happens that some students discover that they cannot stomach the ambiguity and risk involved in starting and running a venture – better early than late.

Educational institutions and faculty have traditionally regarded starting a business as a waste of students’ time and talent. However, growing familiarity with entrepreneurs (thanks to the evangelising efforts of NEN, TiE and the network effect), has led students to understand that being an entrepreneur is as much a personality characteristic as it is a learnable skill-set.

Prof M.S. Rao is currently the chairperson at the Center for Entrepreneurship, S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), Mumbai.