Young: The path to entrepreneurship is through the classroom

The academic campus can become an ideal incubator for hatching the entrepreneurial pursuit.  In British Columbia, we are blessed to have universities, colleges and private institutions to provide the magical carpet ride of entrepreneurial endeavours.

But, we need to knock on their doors and explore what lays beneath the traditional business course offerings.

What I initially found overwhelming when I began my research this weekend was that, according to the Kauffman Entrepreneurship Foundation, based in Kansas City, Missouri, ostensibly the largest and leading entrepreneurial foundation of its kind in the world, was that more than 2,000 colleges and universities now offer a class and often an entire course of study in entrepreneurship.  That is significantly upward from the 253 institutions in 1985.  Also, more than 200,000 students are enrolled in such programs compared with 16,000 in 1985.

These figures do not include the numbers comparatively from across Canada, Alaska and the Territories which would dramatically increase the numbers. But we are far from where we could and should be in this great nation of ours.

Everyone admires entrepreneurs. Whether our post-grad institutions should teach entrepreneurship today, or support entrepreneurs, is a nonissue. Institutions want students, graduates, faculty and even administrators to behave in the entrepreneurial spirit. Other nations work to emulate, Canada’s entrepreneurial culture.

But, have we got it right yet?  Is it embedded into the culture of our educational system, or is it merely a sidebar?

Entrepreneurship in the classroom?  It’s reality is right in front of us every single school day. Entrepreneurship has become an increasing possibility, particularly since employees have lost the trust they once had for corporations.  With declining economies and layoffs rampant on the front pages, the decline in pension offerings and roller coaster rides with pensions and salary hikes, many employees tough it out on their own.  Can we blame them for considering another option for their lives?

How has the academic world adjusted to the changes around us?  It has frequently been reported that students who participate in entrepreneurship programs demonstrate increased initiative and self-confidence.  It is seen that school interests students at all levels with entrepreneurship principles and standards infused into the curriculum because they can see how practical skills and learning to solve problems combined with the touchstones of innovation and creativity can contribute directly to their future success.

Better yet, when institutions infuse both theory and practicality into their curriculum, giving students a realistic idea of entrepreneurship in real-world examples and when actual entrepreneurs are brought into the classrooms and workshops, students embrace the self-employment imagery for their futures.

Other victories are witnessed alongside in school retention and increased grade outcomes. More simply put, if there is a formal connection between classroom learning and hands-on extracurricular activity as actually starting your own school-based entrepreneurial venture, then the concept, thrives.

The demand for and value of substantive entrepreneurship programs at all levels of our education system increasingly is apparent.  With so many factory jobs now outsourced, with opportunities emerging in new sectors and with values seemingly changing every other day our schools can help Canada get back to its entrepreneurial roots like never before.

Frankly, we can and truly ought to be seen as a global leader in entrepreneurship in many dimensions, entrepreneurial education and training being a major one.

If you trace the history of any well known business cluster or persons, you’ll invariably find a small group of informed entrepreneurs who grew and spawned new entrepreneurship.  Let’s add our piece to that history.

Joel Young is founder of the Okanagan Valley Entrepreneurs Society.


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