I had the chance to wrap-up our 2015 Entrepreneurial Alumni Hall of Fame ceremony the other night, and looking out on the audience, I realized the simple way to explain what we do as entrepreneurship educators. In the end, we have three roles – Educate, Accelerate and Celebrate.
Educate is where we get started. For many of us, it’s our job. It’s what we’re all about. It is an awesome responsibility and for most of us, most of the time, a great joy. But in reality, a lot of students take our courses out of curiosity, and not a burning desire to start a business. I once had the head of one of the world’s top entrepreneurship schools on campus here in St. Louis, and we passed a trash compactor. The visitor said that one of their students invented the device. I was duly impressed. I asked what percentage of their students actually start a business and was told “around a third.” In reality, I was floored. That was close to our historic average.
In the 1990’s, Harvard published a study of their alumni, and found that for the entrepreneurs, it often took 15 years for a business launch to occur. So possibly, the students we teach today may become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, give or take a few years. Even if they don’t become entrepreneurs, if our educating them makes them more aware of or better at being innovative, proactive, flexible, customer-centric, or bottom-line oriented, we’ve prepared them to be better employees, and in the end our efforts should make them more positive toward entrepreneurship in general. That outcome is one of the “big 3” that the EU entrepreneurship education effort seeks to measure, so it is a pretty important outcome on its own.
Accelerate applies to those students and entrepreneurs from our communities who are serious about creating their own business. Through competitions, mentoring, and networking we can help budding entrepreneurs avoid mistakes, improve their processes, and move quicker to profitability. For entrepreneurs who “get” the value of interacting, or sharing their ideas and resources, and reaching out to others to get and give help, our role becomes the superconductor of entrepreneurship, helping people, resources and ideas move quickly to where they can do the most good.
Celebrate refers to the power of notice. Try this out – walk up to someone you know who you think does good work and tell them just that. There’s a good chance they’ll be surprised, encouraged and invigorated. That’s the power of celebration. As entrepreneurship educators, we have a lot of legitimizing power. People think us to be experts, so if we say something or someone is good at what they do, others will sit up and take notice. I see this all the time in our classes. We have entrepreneurs come through every class period. When possible, I try and get alums to come in. These people, successful as entrepreneurs, were more often than not, pretty mediocre (even awful) students. But when I introduce them, and point out they did find themselves, made a name and a life for themselves, and have lessons to share, these entrepreneurs are uniformly struck at how far they have come. They tell the students how they wish they listened better in classes, because it would have saved them from making preventable errors. They’ll tell the students to never give up. If you don’t “find yourself” in college, there is still a whole life to pursue to search. The validation they feel comes from us, an educator, saying they have valuable lessons to share. Bill Gartner, who is at Copenhagen Business School, told me that celebrating entrepreneurship in all its forms is one of the most important things we can do, and as usual, he’s right.
So when in doubt about what to do, keep in mind the “big 3” of entrepreneurship – educate, accelerate and celebrate.