Can Entrepreneurship be Taught?

Economists and academic researchers have long been consumed with the question: “Can entrepreneurship be taught?”  I’m not too concerned with this issue as I’ve seen numerous examples and programs that successfully to teach people of all ages and backgrounds on how to be successful entrepreneurs.  But, this sterile nature-nurture debate avoids a more important question:  what is the best way to teach entrepreneurship?  That is the focus of an interesting study in the new issue of Science.  The article reports on an extensive randomized controlled trial in Togo where large groups of business trainees (500 people in each group) were assigned to three different training approaches.  One group received no training before starting a business.  The other groups received a traditional business training program, where they learned about topics like business planning or marketing, or a curriculum that focused on personal initiative, goal setting, and persistence in the face of setbacks.   The results suggest that this latter focus on psychology and motivation trumps a focus on teaching business skills.   The group receiving psychology focused training started businesses that showed average annual profits of 30%, far exceeding the 11% found with firms started by other trainees.  The group enjoyed higher sales levels and were also more likely to introduce new products too.   This one study is not the last word, but it offer further evidence that successful entrepreneurship training builds new mindsets and perspectives as much as it imparts new skills.

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