Written by Irina Belsky
Teaching entrepreneurship can benefit both budding entrepreneurs and early stage investors. Knowing how to avoid the obvious pitfalls can allow young entrepreneurs to make better decisions and come up with successful ideas, while investors may place more trust in entrepreneurs with a specialised business education.
“The whole point of teaching entrepreneurship is to help students avoid some of the obvious mistakes, so they don’t have to fail quite as often or quite as fast” says Dr. Martin Bliemel, the director of the UNSW Centre of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Dr. Bliemel says common mistakes made by entrepreneurs include “pursuing an idea just because you feel its a good idea but not seeing if the market is ready for it, if the financials are ready for it, if you’re making enough revenue to offset the costs or if you’ve missed some assumptions.”
It might seem odd to think that creativity and inventive thinking can be taught but entrepreneurship education in Australia is steadily growing. Dr. Bliemel reflected that entrepreneurship education was limited even as late as in 2002 when he completed an MBA with a Venture Specialisation. According to Dr. Bliemel “Its only recently that we’re starting to see education programs specialising in entrepreneurship”.
Currently there are many new entrepreneurship initiatives provided by universities. The University of Wollongong has launched an ideas incubator called ‘StartPad’ to allow entrepreneurs to co-locate and have access to “tailor-made space, mentorship, peer-to-peer support” as well as the support to find and potentially secure funding. The University of Sydney is in its second year of running an entrepreneurship course called ‘Technology Venture Creation’ which is taught by successful entrepreneur and founder of Freelancer.com.au, Matt Barrie.The Murdoch University has dedicated an entire degree to entrepreneurial education called ‘Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) in Entrepreneurship and Innovation’ while UNSW offers an undergraduate Diploma in Innovation Management.
The UNSW program has already created success stories. “One student (Erik Chau) developed an eyedropper as his course project and now he’s learnt how to say: here’s this cool product and cool design and here is how to turn it into a business, here is how to sell it and get the royalties from it. So he registered the design for the next generation of the product so that he owns the complete royalties” says Dr. Bliemel. An entrepreneur with specialized entrepreneurship training like Erik could provide investors with an additional sense of security and encourage them to provide early stage funding.
On the other hand, the lack of entrepreneurship education was a struggle for Melbourne based retail entrepreneur Sam Sidney. The 24 year old owner of online clothing store Twin Cat Vintage says that she found the actual “‘business’ side of things” tough and regrets not getting involved in a business training initiative that could have provided her with a mentorship. “I had to do a lot of homework on what steps needed to be undertaken to start up a business” she admits.
Sean Marshall who has been closely involved with the UTS Australian Collaborative Entrepreneurial Society is an advocate for improvements in entrepreneurial education. His response to whether Australia is doing enough to assist young entrepreneurs speaks for itself. “There needs to be a shift away from education focused on theory and to education that involves solving a problem in the real world” he concludes adamantly.
Such universities as UTS are very interested in propelling this shift. UTS has recently created an Entrepreneurship Centre ‘to build an entrepreneurship ecosystem’ and aims to provide highly specialised entrepreneurship courses. In addition to the centre UTS also runs an Entrepreneurship Lab - “an interdisciplinary design thinking environment” where students work in teams “to innovate new approaches for solving components of a big picture problem”. According to UTS, this is a direct response to generations ‘X’ and ‘Y’ who are “more actively interested in creating businesses than previous generations”. The rise of entrepreneurial education certainly indicates that the demand for entrepreneurship is growing with more people pursuing it as a professional career.
Successful innovators like Eric Chau have reaped the benefits of entrepreneurial education while business owners like Sam could have gained much value from practical training and mentorship during the seed and early stage phases of business development. In future we are likely to see further development of entrepreneurial education with potential benefits all throughout the entrepreneurial community. More trained entrepreneurs with the skills to create successful businesses will enter the startup scene in Australia, while investors will have more options when choosing the most potentially profitable projects.
What do you think about teaching entrepreneurship in a university environment?