Can management education prepare you as an entrepreneur?

Many forums and discussions have questioned the adequacy of management education for developing future entrepreneurs. Here are a few thoughts bringing out the mismatches. These are not inadequacies but fundamental differences in the objectives between management and entrepreneurial education processes and their consequences. Some of these thoughts are influenced by the book “How to teach entrepreneurship” by Colin Jones.  

Education is about understanding the world around us and building an individual worldview. It should help the students to identify the challenges and find solutions for transformational change. This objective puts the pedagogical focus on conceptual clarity to develop an understanding of how the world works. In management education, this focus shifts to how businesses function in the ever-changing economic environment. Hence, management education is not about creating new businesses but understanding the whole business lifecycle in the context of economic cycles. Typical management education exposes the students to various contexts and decisions and encourages them to analyze and understand the same. This analysis process is done through case discussions and by developing theoretical solutions for hypothetical business problems. The outcome is to enable the students to understand, manage and improve various business processes with adequate functional knowledge and competencies. The intended outcome is better-managed firms.     

However, entrepreneurial education focuses on building awareness and skills about the various processes involved in new venture creation. These would cover the end-to-end startup lifecycle processes and specific functional “How to” processes that help implement the solutions. These would involve project planning, financial management, operations, building the necessary team, marketing, and customer acquisition. The concepts remain the same as management education, though highly contextual. Each of these processes will have to be understood and implemented differently in the case of a startup. This is where the difference comes in.  The output of this process is to enable the students with knowledge and skills to create new ventures. The outcome would be new startups. 

This is a huge difference. Yet we tend to evaluate B-Schools with the number of startups incubated and launched, holding these institutions accountable for something that is not their core objective. How can we address this issue?  

Based on these intended objectives, the pedagogy must differ in both these cases. The students in the management education class would focus more on self-negotiated action, where they try to align their inner and outer worlds. This congruence is a critical success factor for every B-school student. Thus, this is highly personal and is different for every student. The biggest challenge for a faculty member of a B-school is to help students get this self-negotiated alignment.  

Compared to management education, entrepreneurial education should be pursued by choice. There is no point in adding it to the regular curriculum for an existing graduate program just to add flavour or build awareness. Such a program would work only as a non-credit program where the students are not pressured to perform. The best outcome would be to inspire a few students to pursue entrepreneurship as a career choice. Once that decision is made, a comprehensive program can be offered to them; this reduces a lot of pressure on both students and teachers.  

Once the students have decided to pursue entrepreneurship as a career choice, the curriculum and the pedagogy should be focused on creating and running a startup. The pedagogy should accommodate enough space for experimentation and feedback so that the students develop a habit of failing forward fast. Class discussions should focus on analyzing the actions taken and lessons learned rather than a typical pass/fail grading. Such an approach would encourage the cohort to become comfortable with failure and learn from one another. This is the biggest takeaway from a well-designed and implemented entrepreneurial education program.  

Another effective way to teach entrepreneurship is to help the students become interns in existing startups. This works like on-the-job training; the interns would experience the real-time challenges of running a startup. By rotating them among the roles, they would develop a systemic view of the startup as well as the business.  

This approach would work well even at the undergraduate level. When students intern in various functional roles, they better understand each business function and appreciate the challenges involved. This will help them to decide the functional domain they want to focus on during their higher educational pursuits. They would better understand their career objectives and plans to pursue.         

We can conclude that treating management and entrepreneurial education as the same is inappropriate as they pursue different objectives. The curriculum design and the pedagogy must be customized to meet the objectives. Understanding these differences would help both the student and the faculty in a great way.

About the Author 

Flt. Lt. Sridhar is a Startup Ecosystem Builder, Keynote Speaker, Author, Researcher, and Entrepreneur. Sridhar’s mission is to help Entrepreneurs and startups achieve incredible success through exponential growth. He brings insights and lessons from three decades of hands-on startup and business leadership experience in various verticals. Sridhar uses six different thinking processes, including systems thinking and design thinking, and helps entrepreneurs create breakthrough solutions through his unique coaching process. Sridhar launched and ran four businesses. He is a certified Startup Mentor from the Confederation of Indian Industries. 

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