Proof That We Can Teach People To Be Entrepreneurs

29 January, 2019 / Articles

Because a majority of new jobs come from new or young companies, it’s a bad sign that entrepreneurship in the U.S. has been receding over several decades and still has not matched its pre-recession levels. It’s similarly foreboding that the innovation gap between the U.S. and global competitors is closing fast. To reverse those trends, we need more entrepreneurs.

But entrepreneurs don’t just start businesses, they work in them too. And employers are increasingly seeking applicants with noncognitive, social and emotional skills – people with the creativity, persistence, communication and problem-solving skills that entrepreneurs demonstrate. In other words, we need more entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately, simply going to school leaders and education policymakers and ordering up more entrepreneurs has not been plausible.

That’s partly because there’s a common misbelief that entrepreneurs, like rock stars or professional athletes, are born instead of made – that you can’t teach “it.” Even at a practical level, though, just ordering more entrepreneurs has also been implausible because entrepreneur-ism has been difficult to define and, until very recently, impossible to measure.

But a few months ago, that quietly and significantly changed. Now, there isn’t just research on entrepreneurship or teaching, there’s actually good research on teaching entrepreneurship. Culminating years of work, Dr. Thomas Gold, Research Director at The Acceleration Group, may finally have some answers about whether teaching entrepreneurship works and how it can be measured.

Gold developed the EMI, the entrepreneurial mindset index, “an assessment with the psychometric properties to measure the entrepreneurial mindset in young people,” Gold said. The tool initially measured six of the eight distinct and important components of the entrepreneurial mindset. They are communication and collaboration, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, future orientation, opportunity recognition and comfort with risk. Metrics for the other two skills, initiative and self-reliance and flexibility and adaptability, are in development.

“Just developing an accurate, science-based assessment of skills that are difficult to quantify is exceptionally challenging,” said Dave Saben, President & CEO of Assessment Systems, a private company that helps academic and business clients measure and assess candidates with specific skills, abilities and aptitudes. Assessment Systems did not work on the entrepreneurship project with Gold. But, Saben said, “Good metrics are the most important part of good decision-making. If you can’t measure it, you can’t possibly know what to cut and what to keep and doing that with entrepreneurial thinking is big in education and in business.”

If developing the instrument was big, the findings are potentially enormous.

Most importantly, Gold found “suggestive evidence that a focus on entrepreneurial mindset in schools may have a positive effect in getting youth to see entrepreneurship and self-employment as a possible career path and something that can be learned and developed.” In other words, Gold’s research found that if you teach it, they can learn it.

For example, Gold found that students whose entrepreneurial mindset improved over the course of a year-long or semester-long entrepreneurship education program, “were twice as likely to think about entrepreneurship as a skill that can be applied in any career.” For employers desperately seeking job candidates with strong noncognitive skills, that’s a very promising outcome.

But, Gold cautioned, it’s not that easy. Like most things, the quality of the program and the quality of the teaching matters.

“The finding that was the most important was the relationship between entrepreneurial knowledge and mindset. I found that the greatest gains in entrepreneurial mindset happened in classrooms with the highest growth in entrepreneurial learning,” he said. “As expected, we found the lowest entrepreneurial mindset growth occurred in the lower-performing classrooms … the classes where there were stronger gains in entrepreneurial knowledge were most likely classrooms where there was better instruction, more opportunities for student growth.”

While Gold’s research could have major downstream consequences, it will impact schools and education institutions most directly.

“Schools and universities are already starting to develop curricula and experiences that build the characteristics and skills in youth that will help them navigate the ever-changing economy of the 21st century,” Gold said. “We need to shift our education policies so that they build on or at least match what we are learning about how to teach these hard to measure skills and characteristics.

“What we cannot do,” said Gold, who is currently leading an effort to measure impacts of social entrepreneurship at Acceleration Group, “is simply rely on programs to teach these skills without evaluating them; we need to put their feet to the fire with rigorous research to build evidence on what works and what does not.”

He’s right. We need entrepreneurs to be innovators, business creators and productive employees and we can’t afford to keep guessing at what we need to do toget them.  Perhaps, finally, we won’t have to.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

Forbes

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