Creating an enterprise education system

By Nigel Culkin, Professor of Enterprise and Entrepreneurial Development, University of Hertfordshire. 

It’s encouraging to see that young people, inspired by successful role models like Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel, are increasingly drawn towards entrepreneurship as a career path. Indeed, research shows that 15% of undergraduates plan to start their own business after graduation.

05/08/2015, blogs

Yet ambition and funding alone aren’t enough, as evidence shows that at least half of new companies in Britain fail to last more than five years. The reasons for business failure are wide ranging, but if you look at CB Insight’s top 10 reasons, many of these are linked to innovation, or lack of, in start-ups.

So how can we better embed innovation and enterprise into our education system, to increase both the quantity and quality of start-up entrepreneurs?

Current state of enterprise education

In a report I co-authored last year for the All-Party Group for Micro Business, ‘An Enterprise Education System Fit for an Entrepreneur’, I found an overall sense that enterprise education at all levels is disjointed or even completely lacking.

There’s still a lot more that could be done to help young businesses thrive, rather than merely survive, and a robust enterprise education system that starts in primary school is one of the factors that could drive this. 

But what should a solid enterprise education look like? Here are four of my key recommendations:

  1. Skills – we need to teach students skills that encourage greater innovation and entrepreneurial behaviours. Students need to realise that there’s never an absolute right answer, as the ability to develop new ideas and approaches is one of an entrepreneur’s most valuable resources. Students also need to be adept at networking and connecting with people, as this allows them to identify and grasp new opportunities. The education system also needs to permit failure, allowing students the chance to explain why they failed and learn from this.

  2. Innovation from early years – the earlier that students are exposed to innovation and entrepreneurship in the curriculum, the more likely they are to develop the skills necessary to run successful companies. Enterprise education should be a mandatory part of the curriculum from 4-18 years. This can be tested by ensuring OFSTED assessments cover business as well as community engagement. While all teacher training courses should include a module on teaching enterprise education. 

  3. Innovation in higher education – enterprise education should also be embedded into all university courses. Of the entrepreneurs that go to university, many don’t study a business-related subject. Students of all disciplines should be able to do an introductory module in entrepreneurship as a minimum.

  4. Engagement with business – there’s no better way to learn about innovation and enterprise than through direct engagement with successful SMEs and entrepreneurs. Local engagement between education and business needs to be increased so that students can understand what it’s like to run a business. As an incentive, SMEs that engage should be able to set all related expenses against tax including their time.