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Entrepreneurship education and training: What works?

This series will explore where the state of research stands, what has been concretely proven to work, where the gaps of knowledge lay, and what we as educators, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and researchers can do to fill them.

Stephan Chambers of the Skoll Foundation recently wrote a timely piece on the state of knowledge on entrepreneurship education and training (EET) programs. EET programs are offered by universities (400 universities offered classes in 1995, and compared to over 2,000 universities across the US in 2012) and governments across the world. While multiple theories of teaching and training people to become entrepreneurs exist—traditional vs. innovative, awareness increases entrepreneurial activity—there is a great lack of knowledge on which interventions and approaches work best for their given context and aims.

Problems in entrepreneurship education and training

Chambers makes three great points as to why the field of entrepreneurship programmatic research, which creates information that can help programs, remains at a relatively early stage, given the vast amount of resources spent on EET by numerous institutions:

  1. Programs have loose definitions of context and goals
  2. No opponent to EET programs exist
  3. A lack of research using methodologies that truly identify the effect of an intervention

In another post, Bill Aulet, managing director at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship along with research from the Kauffman Foundation identify a budding crisis in entrepreneurship education programs:  Within this “crisis,” there are worries of: teaching only one model of entrepreneurship, focusing primarily on high-tech, fast-growth companies, and pushing students toward competitions and ventures prematurely or inappropriately. These among the other issues mentioned above by Chambers, leave the field of programmatic research with many questions about the effectiveness of EET Programs.

What needs to be done

At the Kauffman Foundation, we’re interested in what EET programs work, for whom, where and how. We have begun with some initial high-level studies including a paper on EET programs at higher education institutions, often cite an overview of research on EET programs offered worldwide, coauthored by one of our senior fellows, and have multiple efforts in progress (see below).

In order to start making sense of the EET world, we need to:

  1. Identify the outcomes that EET programs are trying to achieve
  2. Figure out if the outcomes match what other programs with similar characteristics, context and participants are trying to do
  3. Find a way to evaluate the impact of the intervention
  4. Better understand if for whom and under what context that impact is created

Below is a list of actionable items for entrepreneurs, researchers, and leaders of entrepreneurship support programs:

More and more people from entrepreneurship professors to communications experts at universities think and talk about this lack of knowledge surrounding entrepreneurship education and training programs. The Kauffman Foundation has begun to focus our resources on how to improve the field.

Current research on EET programs

Kauffman has partnered with the Innovation Growth Lab to run experimental evaluation and trials on programs, including EET programs. We are working with the University of Illinois to conduct a documentation of all EET programs offered at higher education-institutions in the U.S. Finally, we are exploring methodologies to create a review of entrepreneurship education and training to gain an initial understanding of where the field is at.

Other areas of programmatic research are also underway: Kauffman is exploring similar issues for accelerators (Global Accelerator Network), scalable entrepreneurship support programs (scalable program RFP), and entrepreneurship ecosystems (How to measure entrepreneurship ecosystems).

There continues to be increased funding into EET programs, but the results are mixed and “if we don’t come up with a rigorous way to teach entrepreneurship … there’s going to be a backlash”. Only armed with more entrepreneurship education and training program information on what works for whom, where and how, can we really hope to understand what interventions and approaches will meet the entrepreneurs’ needs.