Recent evidence indicates that if you create a training programme on entrepreneurship combining theory and practice, this subject could be learned in the same way as any other discipline taught at university.

Entrepreneurship a Standard Academic Subject?

Is entrepreneurship a matter of inner vocation or can it actually be taught? This is the question raised by a paper entitled ‘Action and Action-Regulation in Entrepreneurship: Evaluating a Student Training [Programme] for Promoting Entrepreneurs’, whose lead author is Michael Gielnik, Professor for Human Resources Development at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany. The study reveals that many people are capable of thinking and acting like entrepreneurs and that, while this potential lies dormant in most of us, the entrepreneurial spirit can nevertheless be awakened.

Does this mean that you can acquire a knowledge of entrepreneurship in the same way as you study maths or literature? In order to answer this question, the authors of the paper set about developing a learning programme on the subject of entrepreneurship. They created twelve separate modules on such topics as identifying commercial opportunities, marketing, networking, law, et al, to be taught over a period of twelve weeks. The basic aim of the sessions was to awake the students’ capacity for entrepreneurship, to test the claim of the paper’s authors that this is not merely a gift that you are born with, but rather an ability that can be acquired through training.

The programme, which was designed especially for developing countries, has so far been taught at a number of universities in Africa and Asia. It combines theory and practice. At the outset, students are given starting capital of $100 and told to use these funds to launch a business. This means that the fledgling business people have to get into buying equipment and materials, negotiating with suppliers, and then launch a finished product on the market. The training is highly practice-oriented, based on learning through error.

In order to test the effectiveness of the programme, the team of researchers carried out a survey of 350 Ugandan students studying a range of subjects, to find out how they felt about setting up a company. Half of the students polled had already taken part in the Leuphana University programme, the rest had not. The survey was carried out in three stages: before the teaching programme, immediately afterwards, and one year later.

The percentage of business owners in the group who had not followed the training programme (control group), compared with the percentage of those in the group that had done so (training group), before and after the programme

The first poll carried out directly after the programme revealed that there was greater confidence among the students as regards their ability to set up and run a company. They tended to feel more confident about launching a business than those who had not followed the programme. These results therefore already showed the impact of this type of coaching. A subsequent survey conducted twelve months after the programme confirmed these results, demonstrating that those students who had followed the programme were keener than the others to set up their own business. This experiment is especially important for developing countries since long-term employment is much rarer in those regions and it is moreover often very difficult to find a salaried job in the first place. In fact the report points out that 60% of all Ugandans are currently unemployed. This type of programme could therefore help to change attitudes to business creation and contribute some real solutions to a declining job market.

By Anthéa Delpuech