Entrepreneur-led Education of Tomorrow’s Risk-Takers

Those who know about entrepreneurship education in the United States know of Ewing Marion Kauffman. Kauffman was a philanthropist in Kansas City who sought to enable generations to create wealth, value and jobs by encouraging and preparing them to take the entrepreneurial path. Are entrepreneurs following his example? I note today the work of another entrepreneur, Dr. Ir. Ciputra, who is busy with a similar mission in Indonesia.

Despite the many challenges to strengthening a startup and scale-up ecosystem in Indonesia, Ciputra has already developed a promising pool of talent, ready to start or work in an entrepreneurial venture. You cannot discuss or map the startup ecosystem in Indonesia without observing the tangible and intangible entrepreneurial assets he has helped build. Now over 80-years old, he chairs a strong but nimble philanthropy moving the entrepreneurship frontier forward in Indonesia, the region, and beyond.

Effective entrepreneurship education is more important than ever in the face of high rates of youth unemployment around the world threatening social stability. What makes the crisis even more dangerous is that considerable portions of the unemployed are educated. However, preparing talented people to make a job for both themselves and others can be a daunting challenge. It requires policies and programs that shape attitudes (e.g. towards risk-taking), develop competencies (e.g. opportunity recognition), and create a transferable culture that values entrepreneurs. According to the UNCTAD Entrepreneurship Policy Framework and Implementation Guide, “entrepreneurial skills center around attitudes (soft skills), such as persistence, networking and self-confidence on the one hand and enabling skills (hard skills) on the other hand, including basic startup knowledge, business planning, financial literacy and managerial skills […] The aim is not only to strengthen the capacity and desire of more individuals to start their own enterprises, but also to develop an entrepreneurial culture in society.”

Entrepreneurship education naturally has to be innovative. Teachers in the developing world can no longer confine their approach to blackboard-style classrooms wherever they are operating. They have to expand their approaches to engage the private sector and experiential initiatives that bring entrepreneurs to educational establishments if they are to graduate more people who actually create successful startups rather than just learn about entrepreneurship.

Simply put, entrepreneurship education is a fluid phenomenon, such that schools become part of the startup ecosystem. The Ciputra Entrepreneurship Foundation has become a world pioneer in developing an entrepreneurship curriculum for primary, secondary, and tertiary schools, as well as non-formal education programs. With the motto “Inspire - Educate - Incubate”, these education interventions cover the full spectrum, from the cognitive aspects of entrepreneurship to the mindset and the very experience of being an entrepreneur. As the Director of the Ciputra Incubator & Accelerator, Ivan Sandjaja, explained to me recently, the entrepreneurship education philosophy is such that at Universitas Ciputra “every graduate must have had the experience of starting up a real venture which generates real profit.”

At the primary and secondary levels, the focus is on mindset formation through basic business concepts and non-formal education initiatives. At the university level, entrepreneurship is not a mere focus for certain disciplines, but at the core of the curriculum throughout. In their first semester, students are exposed to and encouraged to adopt the entrepreneurial mindset. The second semester focuses on creativity development, including the design thinking process, business model canvas, market and customer understanding and ideation. Already in their third semester, students engage in startup execution as they seek to validate their products or services through customer feedback. Continuously iterating to improve their concept, by their fifth semester, students are immersed in the world of scaling up, exploring the world of franchising, licensing and exporting.

This pillar for innovation, a talent pool with an entrepreneurial mindset and business experience, has attracted foreign investors’ and practitioners’ attention to the Ciputra way of educating entrepreneurs. While governments from abroad, such as nearby Fiji, are seeking partnerships with the Ciputra Foundation, this need not always be adopted by government. For example, the national government of Indonesia has not yet deployed a particular entrepreneurship education policy, leaving it up to the various educational institutions to implement their own model. Every economy has to evaluate how much top down pressure is necessary in terms of whether entrepreneurship should be incorporated into the curriculum or an optional program in extracurricular activities, and whether to mandate specific training and incentives for teachers. The Ciputra Foundation has developed a successful model for others to follow when implementing entrepreneurial education reforms in their own countries.  

Because education systems operate in established long-standing structures, effective entrepreneurship education strategies require educators and policymakers to be entrepreneurial themselves. Like Mr. Kauffman, Mr. Ciputra demonstrated by example that entrepreneurs imprint lasting and multiplying value onto entire communities, and most importantly, showed that startup-savvy education policies are an example of smart policymaking.

Ciputra’s Entrepreneurship Foundation is fast becoming a knowledge house, open to collaboration on a global scale. For example, as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network (GERN), it is now helping unlock the mystery of what works in changing entire mindsets around the entrepreneurial path, along with Endeavor Insight, the World Bank, Nesta and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. In all the talk about how entrepreneurs are working together across national boundaries to form new firms, we might do well not to forget the philanthropists like Mr. Kauffman and Mr. Ciputra who are giving forward to prepare a new generation of risk takers.

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