by Judith Cone,
Vice President, Entrepreneurship, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
Entrepreneurship is one of the most important aspects of our economy and students understand that. They no longer believe they can take a job with a large corporation and expect that they will spend their careers in one place. Students know they have to build a wide range of interdisciplinary skills that give them maximum flexibility and preparation for the future. Entrepreneurship is one such skill. Whether considering starting an enterprise or just wanting to be an outstanding employee, students want to learn how to recognize opportunity, harness the resources to exploit that opportunity, exercise their creativity, create sustainable solutions, take the inherent risks, and participate in the rewards. Schools are trying to meet this student demand.
Since entrepreneurship is relatively new to higher education, it has yet to become a legitimate academic field of study. In fact, we are frequently asked: Can entrepreneurship even be taught? Entrepreneurs have long been seen as self-taught, self-made individualists. The perception dates from the days of men like Carnegie, Edison, and others, who had little formal schooling. However, the great entrepreneurs of the past did not really learn or do it all themselves. In the early industrial cities-which were adventurous places, teeming with entrepreneurial activity in then-new fields like telegraphy and railroading-entrepreneurs had access to informal communities of teachers and learners. There they were able to tap into rich networks of contacts for the additional skills and resources their own new ventures needed.
Today, the learning communities and networks are mostly found in and around college campuses. The modern American campus is anything but an ivory tower. It is the crossroads of civilization; just as young people from all points once converged on the great cities to learn and shape their destinies, today they go to college. The campus is where all fields can intersect and cross-pollinate- mathematics and medicine, philosophy and public policy, engineering and the arts -and where all sectors of the real-world economy are represented. Private firms and investors, government agencies, and nonprofits all come to campus to sponsor research, to breed and recruit talent, to search for new ideas. It is no coincidence that the regions flourishing with entrepreneurial activity today tend to grow up around universities: that is where the high-impact entrepreneurs of tomorrow are.
Is Entrepreneurship "Scientific"?
Does entrepreneurship deserve to be a legitimate part of the interdisciplinary nature of a modern university education? Can it be taught? We think yes. Many people once thought that management-a related field-could not be taught. It was largely seen as a personal knack or a set of elusive, intangible skills. But as firms grew too large and complex for seat-of-the-pants managing, there was a need to make the practice more "scientific" and learnable. Today, management is taught everywhere.
Only in recent times have we begun to see entrepreneurship as a field of study in its own right. Since the 1970s, the nation's growth has again become reliant on waves of new ventures in emerging industries. This has made it manifestly clear that conceiving and starting an enterprise-taking the germ of an idea and turning it into an ongoing concern-is not the same as managing what already exists and that, likewise, the practice needs to be made more understandable and available to students regardless of discipline.
Despite the success stories of Bill Gates and Michael Dell, who started college but dropped out to start their companies, many people start companies and fail or have great ideas that are unrealized due to lack of knowledge. Peter Drucker put it bluntly: "Entrepreneurship is 'risky' mainly because so few of the so-called entrepreneurs know what they are doing. They lack the methodology," he wrote in his 1985 book Innovation and Entrepreneurship. That book was an early attempt to codify basic principles. Since then, entrepreneurship education has taken off.
The State of the Art
More than 2,000 college and universities in the United States, about two-thirds of the total, now offer a course in entrepreneurship. A smaller but growing number have entire sequences leading to an undergraduate minor, a master's in entrepreneurship, or something similar. Entrepreneurship "centers," with outreach activities led by seasoned entrepreneurs serving as coaches, are proliferating.
The Kauffman Foundation has helped to fuel much of this growth. For instance, grants to Stanford University in the 1990s helped launch the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and the Educator's Corner, a modest name for a technology-based program that aggregates and offers resources for those teaching entrepreneurship to engineering, science, and technology students. This material is available to any educator via the Web and contains course syllabi, case studies, and videos of noted entrepreneurs such as Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. More than 1,000 diverse grants to other institutions have funded internships, development of specific courses, dissertations, faculty development seminars, consortium of educators and center directors, and the like.
In short, entrepreneurship education on campuses is vibrant, popular, and useful, but hovering at an emergent stage. The Kauffman Foundation has, therefore, shifted its strategy in this area. Rather than cast a multitude of relatively small grants far and wide to seed the effort, we are now focused on looking at a university as a whole-engaging with an institution in a campus-wide, cross-disciplinary approach to entrepreneurship. We are now funding schools that-as institutions-want to provide an interdisciplinary education in entrepreneurship. Presidents, chancellors, provosts, deans of various disciplines, professors, and center directors are committed to work together to provide all students with access to entrepreneurship courses, most often taught in combination with other subjects.
We started on this new path in late 2003, when we awarded $25 million in grants to eight colleges and universities-now referred to as the Kauffman Campuses-to help them move entrepreneurship education across campus, outside of the business or engineering school. Less than two years into the program, the Kauffman Campuses already have made substantial progress in cultivating a more entrepreneurial environment at their schools-one in which students of all academic disciplines can learn and experience the benefits of an entrepreneurial mind-set.
Facing the Challenges
Despite these gains, entrepreneurship still lives mostly on the fringes of academe, not in the mainstream. Many in the academic world itself still view entrepreneurship as not quite a legitimate, full-fledged field of study.
It is natural that, as a new field emerges on campus, it takes time to find its rightful place and often shifts along the way. A recent Kauffman Foundation-sponsored survey found that the names and key concepts of entrepreneurship courses vary widely from school to school. And though most programs have some basic features in common, there is so much variation it is hard to identify a typical curriculum, let alone an exemplary one. While diversity is good, this field needs more of the consistency found in others. For instance, we can agree that engineering students must have Calculus I and II or English students must have Shakespeare. In those fields there is also a firm sense of what the courses should look like.
We have barely scratched the surface in learning to teach entrepreneurship in fields other than business and engineering. Just as most schools of fine arts now teach arts management, we want students to learn how best to start a new theater company or arts center. Education majors ought to be able to learn how best to start a new magnet or charter school-and so on through the humanities, the social sciences, and the various professional schools.
Moreover, beneath the gaps there is a conundrum. To develop good curricula in all these areas, we need more faculty who research entrepreneurship to understand how it works. This research is typically done or led by qualified Ph.D.-holding faculty, of whom there are still few in entrepreneurship. Most faculty are either adjuncts (having practical-life experience but not the academic standing required), or they are "crossovers" from other disciplines (having the standing and the research skills, but little familiarity with entrepreneurship).
A New Strategy
Curriculum has to be made deeper, sounder, and more consistent across the board. So instead of supporting "one-off" curriculum projects at various institutions, we are now focused on piloting and replicating true world-class coursework. For instance, we will be partnering with schools to develop and disseminate an entire new learning sequence for students. To fill a key gap in the curriculum, we are looking at refining and disseminating a very promising new approach to teaching opportunity recognition. And to spread entrepreneurship across the campus, we will help propagate some of the best new curriculum developed at the Kauffman Campuses.
Faculty development is a crucial, related issue. Many schools do not have enough qualified faculty to meet the growing student demand. We are thus intensifying efforts to recruit faculty from all disciplines-be it business, the social sciences, or any other discipline-and prepare them to teach and do research in entrepreneurship.
One way we will do this is by seeding and supporting networks of like-minded faculty across the United States. There are few such mechanisms at present, and they are needed so that entrepreneurship educators can learn from one another and work together to raise the bar for all. We are also looking at novel ideas. Faculty of exceptional promise, for instance, might soon be competing for Kauffman-sponsored sabbaticals: a new kind that would give them time off to study entrepreneurship, develop a course, or lay plans for an academic journal-plus follow-up support to then implement and disseminate what they have learned and done.
As curriculum and faculty grow stronger, we need to assure that entrepreneurship gains full academic status in higher education. All efforts require enlisting partners and champions. Kauffman is working at this from every angle, not only among faculty, but with university presidents and chancellors. We are also working "from the outside in" with successful entrepreneurs and other champions in the private sector. Many have been very generous thus far, in matters such as creating endowed chairs and professorships in entrepreneurial studies. The key is to lift this groundswell to a new level: we have been working with others, for instance, to form a national panel on entrepreneurship education that might, among other things, take the lead on defining the curriculum for entrepreneurship in higher education.
Our ultimate goal is to see that any young person who enters college, in any field of study, has the chance for a great education in entrepreneurship. Of course not everyone will aspire to be an entrepreneur. But we believe that everyone should at least be acquainted with the role entrepreneurship plays in the economy, aware of the possibility of entrepreneurship as a choice at some point in their careers, and know how to engage with the process. The world in our time-the world these young people will go into-is never static; it is always being re-invented.
And that is precisely what entrepreneurship is about. It is a means of re-inventing the world.