These days, everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. Forget starting on the bottom rung of a traditional graduate scheme: the new cool career of choice is setting up on your own.

But, just as you can’t wake up one morning and decide you want to be an Olympic gymnast with no prior training, can you really announce your intention to become an entrepreneur without having had formal enterprise education?

The increasing demand for entrepreneurship classes, and the booming market for self-help business books, suggests not. Indeed, Harvard Business School professor, Dr Noam Wasserman , believes that enterprise educators have a responsibility to analyse what works (and what doesn’t) and teach it – just as one would teach doctors, lawyers and accountants:

“Entrepreneurs are the ultimate general managers. They can benefit from much of the same knowledge that business students gain about marketing, finance and other topics, complemented by lessons that are specifically tailored to start-ups. And those lessons are getting better all the time.”

By contrast, business personality Gary Vaynerchuk is adamant that entrepreneurs are born, not made:

“I fully, fully 100,000%, with no hedge, do not believe that you can teach entrepreneurship… I think of entrepreneurship in a very rugged, very raw, much dirtier way.”

A question of semantics

To understand this debate fully, a clear distinction must be drawn between entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur.

Where entrepreneurship is the process of identifying and starting a business, an entrepreneur is the person who organises and operates it. Entrepreneurship requires assessing both risks and rewards, whilst being an entrepreneur means putting a company’s mission before your own ego. As MIT professor Robert H. Hacker remarks:

“Entrepreneurs are created on a dinner table. But not all entrepreneurs have the skills or tools to make their business work.”

Herein lies the value of enterprise education for proponents: not to ‘teach’ the personality traits necessary for success, but to impart the knowledge needed to ensure the entrepreneur is prepared to make the best decisions for their business – equipping the entrepreneur not with the talent, but the tools.

University of life

Critics like Vaynerchuk disagree. They believe that entrepreneurship is an innate quality – something you were born to do, not something you can be taught to do. You cannot learn passion, perseverance and innovation in a classroom; you cannot learn how to make judgement calls when, by its very nature, enterprise is not clear cut. Starting and running a business requires skills that can only be developed in the real world: “the aggregate experience of a life that is lived” (Victor W. Hwang, Silicon Valley venture capitalist).

Enterprise education: our verdict

Here at Crowdfund Campus, we don’t believe the question is whether you can teach entrepreneurship, but how to teach it well. Indeed, one of Hwang’s criticisms of enterprise education is that traditional entrepreneurship classes teach would-be business owners to avoid making mistakes at all costs. On this point, we stand with Hwang, agreeing that enterprise education should focus not on endless planning and error avoidance, but on learning to fail. Our Sandpit platform has been developed precisely to give students a safe environment in which to try, and fail, and try again – arguably the greatest gift a university enterprise course can offer.

Although being an entrepreneur per se may ultimately come down to personality (which cannot be taught, only learned), entrepreneurship is a skillset which can be imparted and improved over time. Having an entrepreneurial personality is no guarantee of success: you need the attitude plus the application – the right resources, the good habits, the knowledge and know-how, the supportive mentors and peer community – to truly get you and your business ahead.

If you would like to discuss the value of enterprise education directly, or explore our innovative crowdfunding platform in full, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.