• Prof. Simon Barnes

SHOWING ENTREPRENEURS HOW TO FAIL WELL

Many successful entrepreneurs will tell you that being an entrepreneur is something that cannot be taught: It is innate, “you have it or you don’t”. It is a mysterious force that you cannot put your finger on. They are half right.

More precisely, research suggests that genetics accounts for about 40% of an individual’s likelihood of becoming ‘an entrepreneur’. Biological studies have linked genetics, physiology, neuroscience, and even neurological disorders to entrepreneurship but there is a great deal that is not explained by biology. This is where entrepreneurship education comes in.


Just as a tennis coach can provide the strokes and the tactics for pupils to become good players, it is unlikely they will produce champions like Serena Williams unless the pupil has extraordinary levels of talent and drive. And so it is with entrepreneurship education. We can provide the tools and techniques, the guidance and experience, but we are unlikely to produce too many entrepreneurs like Elon Musk. We may, however, produce many good entrepreneurs who start successful businesses or join innovative start-ups as key early employees. If enough students do this, we might transform the economy through commercial entrepreneurship or civil society through social entrepreneurship.


Although research into what makes an entrepreneur will continue within business schools it is useful to move away from this debate and consider entrepreneurship simply as a process.


Entrepreneurship education is about picking apart the entrepreneurial process and its component parts. It is about providing students with the tools and the understanding to evaluate an opportunity, build a team, raise capital, develop a strategy, launch products, manage uncertainty and so on.


Entrepreneurship education is also about exposing students to the many challenges faced by entrepreneurs through activities such as pitching competitions and simulations. These experiences are a way of developing one further characteristic within would-be entrepreneurs: Resilience. It is an absolute certainty that entrepreneurs will face hardship and failure along the way and will need to pick themselves up to succeed next time.


Changing the perception of business failure and how to deal with it is a key attribute entrepreneurs need to learn, and entrepreneurship educators must increasingly turn their attention to instilling grit within the students they teach.