5 Things Schools Get Wrong About Teaching Entrepreneurship

5 Things Schools Get Wrong About Teaching Entrepreneurship

In light of the technology-driven changes to the global economy, today’s K12 students need to become more adaptable and go beyond remembering and regurgitating facts (something Google can do for them), to make their mark on the world.

As such, it‘s encouraging to see many schools across the globe beginning to run entrepreneurship programs on campus.

But like the innovation theatre that plagues many large corporations, it’s easy for schools to fall into the same traps of doing what from the outside-in appears to be innovative and entrepreneurial, but on the surface of it lacks substance when it comes to truly cultivate entrepreneurial mindsets.

With that in mind, here are five things schools get wrong, or to put a positive spin on it, could be doing better, in order to move away from theatre and closer to measurable outcomes.

1. Bake sales and lemonade stands

While a good entry point for young kids, selling cookies or lemonade does not an entrepreneur make.

What’s wrong with this approach?

Entrepreneurship is about uncertainty, and fundamentally about taking something new to the world.

The typical outcome of a bake sale is predictable, especially when baked goods are sold on campus to obligated-to-buy parents and teachers.

Students aren’t challenged to define problems, to come up with novel solutions and test their ideas — something that is intrinsic to entrepreneurial success.

How to improve this

If you’re going to run a bake sale, at least take it to the streets (supervised of course), away from the obligatory purchases of parents and teachers.

Students should be challenged to determine factors such as:

  • location
  • price
  • what to sell
  • how to attract buyers
  • how to sell

2. Make-Believe

Many programs go a step beyond mere bake sales, and ask students to identify problems, generate ideas, define business models, build prototypes and even pitch their ideas.

What’s wrong with this?

This is all good, but it misses the fundamental step of early stage entrepreneurship which is to test your ideas with actual target customers.

While startup media is littered with stories of overnight successes, it is the laborious process of build-measure-learn-build again, made famous by The Lean Startup, that is at the very heart of entrepreneurial success.

Without this, it’s all just make-believe.

How to improve this

  1. Define assumptions that underpin the success of this idea (eg. customer segment identified will pay $X for product)
  2. Test assumptions by using a prototype and engaging with actual target customer segments
  3. Learn from the interactions, update assumptions and prototype, and test again
  4. When pitching, incorporate the learnings from this build-measure-learn loop into the pitch

3. Confusing Ideation with Innovation

In the world of entrepreneurship, it’s easy to confuse ideation with innovation. All you need is a million-dollar idea, right? Wrong.

What’s wrong with this

As Thomas Edison said, innovation is one percent ideation and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Ideas are a dime a dozen — it’s the execution that matters (sensing a theme here?)

How to improve this

Ensure that ideas are not just solutions looking for a problem, but actually solve a defined problem. Use design thinking to hone in on problems.

Use a tool, such as the lean or business model canvas, to define the business model that underpins the idea, and then do what was proposed in #2 above, build, measure and learn!

4. Copying Shark Tank

Similar to the over-optimizing for ideas, many programs mimic television’s Shark Tank program and focus a little too much on the pitching ideas, at the detriment to everything else.

Why this is wrong

A great pitch does not a successful startup make, as 75% of Series F startups (startups that have successfully pitched investors and raised tens to hundreds of millions of dollars) who still fail to exit know.

How to improve this

See #2.

5. Short-termism

Many entrepreneurial programs are relegated to short-term, once-off, incursions.

What’s wrong with this

True entrepreneurial endeavors take time.

As URBNSURF founder, Andrew Ross, told me on a recent episode of the Future Squared podcast, his artificial surf park was “an overnight success seven years in the making”.

In order to get to what entrepreneurs call ‘product-market fit’, it takes time. And if students are given a day or two to work on ideas, then there is unlikely to be much learning or personal growth that comes with the ongoing struggle.

How to improve this

Run programs over the longterm. It could be an hour a week for the school year, or a day per month, or even an ongoing homework project that students participate in.

Platforms like Lemonade Stand can help to facilitate students working alone or in teams, as well as the ideation, business modeling, prototyping, and testing that is fundamental to entrepreneurship.

Steve Glaveski is the co-founder of Collective Campus, author of Employee to Entrepreneur and host of the Future Squared podcast. He’s a chronic autodidact, and he’s into everything from 80s metal and high-intensity workouts to attempting to surf and do standup comedy.

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