The Top FIVE Things Entrepreneurship Educators Worry About

By Heidi M. Neck, Jeffry A. Timmons Professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson College

Entrepreneurship education in universities and colleges is everywhere. You would be hard-pressed to find a business school not offering a collection of entrepreneurship courses today. Even more exciting is the growing number of courses offered outside of business schools in colleges of music, engineering, law, medicine, nursing just to name a few. For almost 10 years, I have led Babson’s Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE) designed to help teachers from around the world elevate their craft of teaching entrepreneurship. I’ve seen so many types of entrepreneurship educators: the “second chapter” educator who sold one or more businesses and now wants to teach; the “career business academic” who is awarded more for research than inspired teaching; the “pracademic” who has a PhD but also has the requisite startup and business experience that students love; and the “OMG educator” who was told by someone higher up in the university that they must build an entrepreneurship center, develop a major or minor, or teach an entrepreneurship class for the first time and they have no idea how to start. The enthusiasm for entrepreneurship education across all types is contagious. I’ve talked to and been inspired by them all!

All SEE program participants are asked about the greatest challenges facing entrepreneurship education. Many patterns have emerged across the responses during the past few years, which allowed me to create this top five list. In honor of David Letterman (I’m a super fan!), I’ll start with number five!

  1. A large component of entrepreneurship education is about developing an entrepreneurial mindset and this is extremely hard to measure. My response: Folks are working on this but just because we can’t measure something doesn’t mean we should avoid it!
  2. Some educators just won’t let go of the business plan as the gold pedagogical standard. My response: The debate should be over because the business plan no longer takes center stage. It was the gold standard only because it’s gradable. Just about everything important comes before ever writing a business plan. See my post on this.
  3. Lack of standards for teaching entrepreneurship. My response: I hope we never get to a “one best way” approach for teaching entrepreneurship because then we all have to worry about compliance. I’ve never met an awesome teacher or seen a bold program that complied their way to greatness.
  4. All entrepreneurship educators should have entrepreneurship experience. My response: In an ideal world, yes, but this really isn’t practical given the proliferation of courses and need for all types of educators in this space. Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots and considered one of the greatest coaches ever, was a better lacrosse player than a football player. He played center and tight end at Wesleyan University but was the lacrosse captain at the college. He learned the game from his father, who was a football coach and scout.
  5. Move from being a lecturer to a facilitator of action-based learning. My response: Yes this is THE No. 1 challenge in entrepreneurship education. In order to learn entrepreneurship, one must practice and do entrepreneurship. Students should not sit through a semester of guest speakers, case studies, and PowerPoint lectures. The outcome for the students will simply be an increase in their ability to multitask because they will become extremely adept at being in the classroom, on their phone, and on their laptop—all at the same time. Educators need to teach in bold and entrepreneurial ways and model the behavior they want to see in their students.

Entrepreneurship education in higher education is not about the content. Of course, content is important but it’s also free and pervasive online. So what’s our role? Consider an analogy. If I want to find the lyrics to my favorite song (Stevie Nicks’ Landslide!), I can Google and find the lyrics within seconds. BUT, just because I have the lyrics doesn’t mean I can actually sing the song. Trust me when I say I cannot sing the song!

If we really want to teach entrepreneurship then WE need to learn how to help students sing!

So that’s it—the top five challenges of entrepreneurship educators. But, we can’t end yet. In the spirit of being entrepreneurial, these challenges are huge opportunities that we can entrepreneur (yes, I intended to use it as a verb) our way through and move the needle forward. Teaching entrepreneurship is awesome! Enjoy the journey.