Can a traditional learning institute teach students how to become entrepreneurs?

The question’s been asked again and again throughout the years, but an answer has never been as important as it is today. According to the 2016 Amway Global Entrepreneurship Report, 41% of Australians can imagine starting their own business. Considering that the latest figures show only 10-17% of the Australian workforce is self-employed, the report offers a critical glimpse into the future of work in Australia.

So why do they want their own business, and how can it be made a reality? 71% said they wanted independence from an employer. 64% strived for self-fulfilment.

Freedom to pursue your dreams; it’s the goal that has driven so many great entrepreneurs. Their stories are inspirations. Unfortunately though, in the age of startups, unicorns, and inflated valuations, they are being misconstrued. Society is romanticising the results, not the work. In doing so, we are forgetting what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, and setting the 41% up to fail.

To teach entrepreneurship, we must be able to define what it is. The problem is that if you ask ten people what it means to be an entrepreneur, they will give you ten different answers. Literally speaking, the traditional description of an entrepreneur is someone who starts their own business. At best, this definition is rudimentary. At worst, it’s useless. Deloitte Center for the Edge founder John Hagel III goes further. He proposes that we instead think of an entrepreneur as “…someone who sees an opportunity to create value and is willing to take a risk to capitalise on that opportunity”.

Hagel’s definition perfectly describes the entrepreneurial journey. It’s the recognition of value, and the pursuit of it in the face of risk. The starting of a business is not the end game for an entrepreneur (sorry, not sorry, to anyone whose obsession with modern startup culture would lead them to believe otherwise), but only the beginning.

The rest comes with experience, and therein lies the popular argument for why entrepreneurship can’t be taught. “Entrepreneurship can’t be taught in a regular classroom any more than surfboarding can. To learn it, you have to get your feet wet in the real world,” claims venture capitalist Victor W. Hwang. “Entrepreneurs hone their craft through experimentation and collaboration… They learn best by rolling up their sleeves and building companies, while surrounded by a supportive mentor and peer community.”

He’s right. Few who oppose his general view would claim otherwise. But why does that mean students can’t learn the skills and mindset of an entrepreneur in order to assist them in learning from their journey?

The University of Technology Sydney created the Hatchery program to do just that. Hatchery goes beyond the normal university experience to teach those involved how to deal with problems; essentially, to capitalise on value-making opportunities, as Hagel described. The program is cross-disciplinary, and involves teachers with vast and varied backgrounds.

It’s not the only program of its type either. Club Kidpreneur launched in 2010, and now serves over 8400 children aged 8-12 across the country. The students are taught everything from money handling skills to the value of social enterprise; lessons that will remain valid in their future careers.

These programs are so impactful not solely because of what they teach, but also how they teach it. Entrepreneurial knowledge doesn’t translate into traditional means of education. It is visceral. It is practical. It is trying, failing, and being encouraged to continue rather being told to quit.

Can it be taught? Absolutely. Entrepreneurship isn’t an end-game, it’s an attitude. Commit to it, and results will follow.

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