Educating the Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow

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Entrepreneurs are the artists of the business world.

Creativity, intrinsic motivation, responding to a higher purpose… these attributes are shared by dancers, musicians and entrepreneurs alike.

If we look at the ways in which artists are trained, we note a highly collaborative and experiential approach: painters learn to paint by painting; my daughter learns to play the flute… by playing the flute; poets collect together exploring past works and developing future masterpieces. The learning is entrenched in the doing, surrounded by like-minded individuals all striving to improve. This is in stark contrast to the contemporary method of teaching, one which Sir Ken Robinson eloquently refers to as “a fast food model of education.”

If universities are to build entrepreneurial knowledge in graduates we must look to the creative arts for inspiration on curriculum design and delivery. Tina Seelig’s Innovation Engine provides a concise and powerful framework to view the factors needed to drive entrepreneurial outcomes. It combines desirable individual attributes with necessary environmental supports to explore a “whole of ecosystem” approach to driving innovation in organisations.


Knowledge is an important ingredient for an innovative individual, but not at the expense of attitude and imagination. In my classes I talk about motivation and creativity. I refer my students to Dan Pink’s views on motivation, and Tina Seelig’s tools for thinking creatively. A common theme is that creative exploits and ideation are a collaborative effort. Steven Johnson thinks so, as does Matt Ridley. So when I design my courses I build active communities of learners. My students learn by doing. Together.

We all have our points of inspiration, and Sir Ken Robinson holds a special place in many educators’ hearts. In his 2010 follow-up to his “do schools kill creativity” Ted talk (which currently boasts over 37 million views), Sir Ken reinstated the gravity of the position educators hold in the development of our youth:

“Every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet, and we should tread softly.”

When we design our programs, our courses, our assignments, our in-class activities, we must take care to educate the whole creative individual if we aim to build entrepreneurial knowledge in our graduates. We must deliver leading-edge knowledge and technical capability while at the same time supporting creative endeavour and tapping in to intrinsic motivation. It is no surprise to me that a 2012 study of 3,700 students across five tertiary institutions showed an inverse relationship between innovative intentions and grade point averages: factors other than a high GPA are driving the motivation of entrepreneurially-minded students.

Ideas Camp is an event we run for high school students to introduce them to the world of entrepreneurship education. We run them through workshops targeted at creative problem solving, getting them to work in small groups to come up with innovative solutions. Influential guest speakers share their stories to provide an aspirational theme to the day: Lisa Messenger from the Collective Hub and Nick Pearce from Blackboard Coffee chatted with the students, providing practical relevance to the (introductory) academic frameworks we provide.

Stepping back from the success of the day, I was most proud of the way in which we combined the different elements of entrepreneurial education together into an exciting event that not only built knowledge in the participants (what academics would call “human capital”) but did it in a way that was collaborative, experiential and promoted creativity. Check out the video to see what we got up to:

One of the unintended consequences of putting on these events is that select elements find their way into other parts of the program design. My MBA students now do the Crazy Cow activity, while students progressing through the Bond Business Accelerator lean heavily on the Value Proposition Canvas in developing their early MVPs.

Importantly, the National Science and Innovation Agenda has gifted entrepreneurship education some much needed legitimacy. I feel privileged to be part of a team of wonderful educators shaping the way tomorrow’s entrepreneurs are being educated at Australia’s only private not-for-profit university. The gravity of the task is not lost on me: I only hope we do our best to honour the dreams that are spread at our feet.



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