Who Teaches Entrepreneurship? 0

Fortune Small Business has a quick and easy list of business schools with entrepreneurial flair, complete with short summary and picture of each of the schools they mention. That first list is about graduate business degrees, the classic MBA degree. I got drawn into it, and clicked most of the other links there offering lists for best colleges (as opposed to MBA schools). It’s well done, a nice interface in slides with pictures and useful lists. Schools are arranged into useful groups including orientations for family business, distance learning, undergrad, social entrepreneurship and so on.

Stanford

It reminds me that I have mixed feelings about business education.

On the one hand, I enjoyed my own two years at business school thoroughly, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I liked what I was learning. It was useful. And it’s served me very well in the 20-some years since. The two years on campus were great for my family, too. My wife and I were both in our early 30s; we had three kids and a very pleasant townhouse on the Stanford campus. I believe in education in general, I teach at the University of Oregon, and my wife and I have happily paid for college degrees for all five children.

On the other hand, there are wise people who doubt the value of education in the field of entrepreneurship. Can we teach entrepreneurship? they ask. I say yes, we can give people a huge head start by helping them figure out what makes businesses go, how the cash flows, what marketing and sales really are, and so on. All of that is learnable out in the school of hard knocks, but it’s not bad to learn it faster and better in an organized way, in a classroom.

You do have to distinguish between things that can be taught by a professor in a classroom with chalkboard and homework, and things that can’t be taught in a classroom. There are differences. Business schools tend to teach analysis and analytical techniques because those are teachable skills or those subjects are their strengths. Some of the more intuitive skills in business are hard to teach. I don’t want to list them because every one of them has some great classes, books and professors, but you know what I mean. There are no algorithms for the right price, when to fire a person, when to quit the day job and jump into the business full time, when to shut up and when to talk. Sort of.

Back on the subject of those lists at the top of this post: I do have two complaints. The Gigot Center at Notre Dame and the Lundquist Center at the University of Oregon should be there. Gigot is listed number two in the U.S. for green MBAs in BeyondGreyPinstripes.org (second to Stanford), but it isn’t in the social entrepreneurship group at all. That’s not right; it’s a strong program. The Oregon program should at least be among the undergraduate programs listed for entrepreneurship. Okay, I’m biased, I’m involved with both, but still…

And back to my other theme, business education and entrepreneurship. The question comes up often. I can argue either side, and do, depending on which day I get asked. Beware of easy answers on this one; it’s too easy to dismiss education as impractical, particularly business education and even more so entrepreneurship. The school of hard knocks can be much more expensive, and much less pleasant, than a good business school. I’ve been through both, so I’m not sure of the right answer.

(Logistical note: there was an earlier version of this post that I posted last night. It was there for a while, but seems to have disappeared. I’m pretty sure that’s because the technical powers that be have been fussing with servers for a few days. No loss; this version is better. Tim)

About the Author Tim Berry is the founder of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry. Follow Tim on Google+ Read more »

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