Friday, November 1, 2013

unCon 2013 Session: Entrepreneurship Education

Moderator: Blake Sims

Can entrepreneurship be taught? In an era where the word is being used in nearly every sector and at ever level, it’s a very good question to ask.

The session was led by Blake Sims, a Master’s Candidate in International Education Policy at Harvard School of Education ( ). Sims was a middle school teacher before going back for her graduate degree and recently started a blog called Innovation Garage ( ).

As more and more of us in the US look at our “innovation economy,” a quick Google search will tell you it’s a question many are asking, including:
       Entrepreneur ( )

Just the idea of defining entrepreneurship can be a tricky one. It’s taken on such ubiquitous usage over the last decade that it can include everything from starting your own business to being entrepreneurial within a large corporation.

So, is entrepreneurship mean starting a business or is it a way of thinking? If you can teach it, how do you teach it? Can schools foster creativity more? Are our schools currently teaching the creativity out of our students? How do we launch programs in high schools on self-reflection and problem solving? How do we help people utilize their creativity to be an entrepreneur? What are the motivations for becoming an entrepreneur?

Not surprisingly, the session attracted more people who think you can than thought you can’t. Several were parents interested in how they can better prepare their children for the innovation economy and several were high school students (at least one from Milton Academy ( ) ) and college students who were already managing their own entrepreneurial enterprises—from dog walking businesses to a college nightlife shuttle service (in Boston for when the T shuts down and no cabs are available) to family dry cleaning businesses to ed tech startups) to entrepreneurial journalism.

The session discussed child-centric programs like Destination Imagination ( ), which serves as a “global leader in teaching the creative process from imagination to innovation” and their role in preparing youth for future career opportunities.
Many look at entrepreneurship as developing the skill of problem solving, through which all other pursuits can be achieved. There’s also the concept of how to sell: how to sell an investor on an idea, how to sell a consumer on a purchase, or how to sell your product or service. As an entrepreneur, at the start, all of these responsibilities are usually on your shoulder.

One of the best parts of the conversation was about whether entrepreneurship is a formal education, or is it a culture you foster across disciplines?

A key piece of entrepreneurship is how to get people over the fear of risk and failure. While many startups gurus encourage entrepreneurs to fail fast, learn, and make a better product or service next time, human nature is not so inclined to enjoy failure. Of course, there’s also the advantage for younger people who are less inclined to fear risk when starting a new venture.

Plus, we acknowledged that getting a startup business going is hard. It’s hard to acquire capital, it’s hard to find the right people to help your company grow, but, in my experience, most entrepreneurs simply don’t let any obstacle get in their way.

The session also brought to light a variety of local entrepreneurial ventures like Boston College’s Lynch Leadership Academy ( ), Build Boston ( ) 30 Hands Learning ( ), Jeremiah Burke High School’s technology program ( ), and Tufts University’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program ( ).

In an era where entrepreneurs pitching investors has become mainstreamed by ABC’s Shark Tank television series ( ), perhaps the idea of being an entrepreneur are helped simply by showing everyone a little bit about how it works to develop a business idea, find funding, manage ownership and growth, and, once again, pursuing the American dream.
Several books recommended included titles by Seth Godin ( ), Steve Blank ( ), as well as Bill Aulet’s  ( ) Disciplined Entrepreneurship ( ) , Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators ( ) and David and Tom Kelley’s Creative Confidence ( ). Another participant suggested reading Wired magazine’s recent article, How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses ( ) and attending events like Startup Weekend ( ) to see how enterpreneurs think, work, and act.

While we didn’t answer all our own questions, it’s clear many are working on determining how to better foster entrepreneurship, for people of any age. In the years to come, it’s likely we’ll have much more data about how education is impacting American entrepreneurship. I can’t wait to see what works.

By Charles McEnerney

Charles McEnerney is a Principal at Layers Marketing ( ), a full-service agency handling traditional, web, and mobile marketing based in Boston, Massachusetts. Charlie has worked in marketing roles at media and entertainment companies for more than 25 years, including at ArtsBoston, Fast Company magazine, HBO, MovieMaker magazine, the Seattle International Film Festival, WGBH Boston, and in film, audio, and music production. Current and recent Layers Marketing clients include Appsembler, The Arts Fuse, Boston University's College of Fine Arts, The Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts, Future of Music Coalition, Jamaica Plain Music Festival, and the Over My Shoulder Foundation. Charlie teaches the four marketing courses at Emerson College as well as workshops and seminars about marketing and social media.

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