Entrepreneurial Learning
In OPEDUCA Entrepreneurship is seen as the will and ability to turn ideas into action, to create, to see and manifest something that has not been there before. To boldy go ...
Entrepreneurship is based on creativity, daring to set goals, to empower and trust, cooperate with others, realize mutual goals, add value to a cooperation and to society at large.

Neil Kane

first director of undergraduate entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset

The traditional career path is an anachronism. Statistics show 40 to 50 percent of students entering college in 2016 will be self-employed or will freelance at some point in their careers, according to a study commissioned by Intuit. The economy, students’ desires and the world’s expectations of students are all very different than what I faced when I graduated college.
I went to work for IBM, one of the largest companies in the world. I fully expected to stay there my entire career. The global economy, technology and social changes have all served to alter the traditional contract between an employer and employee, and no graduate today has expectations of decades-long employment at one company. Five years later I resigned to complete my MBA in Australia, and upon my return, I started my first business - a barbecue sauce company.
Americans revere the entrepreneurial spirit. We celebrate innovators like Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg who have, as Steve Jobs said, “put a dent in the universe.” And through their great wealth, they are also able to profoundly affect society by funding the development of treatments for diseases, as Gates does, and tackling social issues such as inner-city education, as Zuckerberg has. Millennials as a group want to have impact, want to pursue their passions and want to be innovators.
There is no better way to prepare students for the world of the 21st century, whether they aspire to work for a large company, start their own business, go into academia or devote themselves to public service than through cultivating their skills in entrepreneurship.
When we teach entrepreneurship, the emphasis is on developing skills, not starting businesses. Of course we support and encourage those students who are passionate about launching the next Facebook, and there are many resources at MSU to help them. Rather the goal is about developing the inter-disciplinary skills that lead to the development of an “entrepreneurial mindset.”
The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship defines the entrepreneurial mindset as the set of attitudes, skills and behaviors that students need to succeed academically, personally and professionally. These include:  initiative and self-direction, risk-taking, flexibility and adaptability, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving. Other definitions include the ability to see opportunities, marshal resources and create value.
To me the term embodies a set of cross-functional life and professional skills that describe someone who is innovative, resourceful and creates value. The entrepreneurial mindset can be applied in many contexts. It applies to employees in large, hierarchical entities, and it applies to community organizers, academics, inventors, doctors, lawyers, politicians, musicians and public servants. In no way is it unique to startup companies, and the skills that are developed are relevant to everyone.
Our premise is that learning the entrepreneurial mindset is a critically valuable 21st century skill. Those who learn it well will have outsized success in their careers - no matter what they choose to do - because by definition they become resourceful and adaptable.
Innovation, a topic that is relevant to every industry, occurs at the intersection of disciplines. Entrepreneurship synthesizes information from across academic specialties and demands that practitioners work with a wide variety of people from different callings. The development of entrepreneurship skills is entirely consistent with the T-Shaped learning model. The entrepreneurial mindset, which incorporates the refinement of valuable professional and life skills, is the horizontal bar on the T.
The skills apply equally to students who want to develop for-profit companies or not-for-profits (or social ventures) or work inside established organizations. And the irony is that traditional employers are telling us that they value these skills in candidates who are applying for jobs that might otherwise appear to not be entrepreneurial. Employers recognize that the innovative spirit, agility, resourcefulness and self-awareness that our students possess are valued in the marketplace.
Just in the last few weeks since MSU’s new Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation became available, we have had students, in addition to business majors, from computer science, journalism, economics, advertising and chemical engineering sign up, just to name a few. The programs are designed to be inclusive and are open to any undergraduate in any major enrolled in any college.
Entrepreneurism must be practiced to be learned. It is experiential. Just as you can’t learn to swim at the library, you can’t learn what entrepreneurship is about unless you have experienced it. We are putting programs in place now to add an experiential dimension to our entrepreneurship and innovation curriculum.
And for those students who aspire to start their own business, there is no better time to do it than while they are in college since the cost of doing so goes up an order of magnitude the minute they lose their full-time student status. On campus students have access to facilities (like our ideation center, The Hive), an incubator (The Hatch), mentors, support and funding.
When one talks to young alumni who have started businesses, as I have done a lot, you consistently hear that even if their business failed, they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. There’s nothing quite like the personal growth that comes from building a business or pursuing one’s passion (which could be to make a movie, produce music, start a news site or launch a new mobile app). I learned the same thing with my barbecue sauce business. Even though the business never flourished, I learned enough so that my next company, which made synthetic diamond, was able to raise more than $18 million from public and private sources. And young alumni tell me similar versions of this story over and over.
Building a business is hard and most fail. But that’s not the point. The point is that in the trying, students develop skills that pay handsome dividends long into their careers - decades in my case. The justification is in the experience, not in the outcome.

John Spencer

Assistant Professor
Educational Technology Coordinator
Graduate Teaching and Leading Department

Helping Students Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset

About three years ago, a student approached me before class. “Mr. Spencer, I heard that you wrote a children’s book.”
I nodded. “I co-wrote it with my wife and then we self-published it.” “Can you teach me how to publish my own novel?”
I launched into a brief elevator pitch about character development, conflict, and suspense. Afterward, she said, “I get that but I want to know how you actually publish a book.”
I later discovered that this student knew how to write a novel. She had already published five books on Wattpad and had hundreds of thousands of readers already. She wanted to know about lead magnets and funnels and marketing. She wanted to know the best practices for formatting a book and the best copy to write when you submit it to Amazon.
A week later, she shared her plans for the future. She wanted earn enough money on royalties to pay for college. Afterward, she would work as a paid freelance author while she continued to build her audience. If sales were low, she might just move to Mexico where the cost of living was lower and she could live near the ocean and spend her days writing.
She had this whole thing figured out. She would write serials - short books each month that would run in a two-year cycle. She had read about an author who had seasons for his novels and she wondered if she could do this with traditional books, ebooks and audiobooks simultaneously.

Why Entrepreneurial Thinking Is Vital for Students
A decade ago, this girl’s dream would have been impossible. She would have had to submit her work to a literary agent and then maybe, just maybe, she might have had a shot at being published. Self-published was expensive and looked down upon. But all of that had changed. She could be an author with little more than a laptop and a brilliant mind.
This student was driven. And she was thirteen years old. I found this whole situation both exciting and sad. I loved her entrepreneurial spirit but, on some level, I felt like she should just be able to be a kid. Still, I couldn’t deny the reality of it. She knew what many adults in her world remained oblivious of - that we are moving toward a creative economy where most workers will have to think like entrepreneurs.
I get it. School doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of creating better workers. It’s about critical thinking and lifelong learning. I never want job preparedness to replace things like citizenship or civics or a democratic approach to a classroom. I think philosophy is as important as STEM and that the arts in STEAM shouldn’t be an afterthought.
And yet . . .
Education has always had a vocational element to it. Whether it’s an apprenticeship or a jobs program or a university, people have always sought out education as a means to economic empowerment.
But things are changing. A college degree doesn’t guarantee a job anymore and job security is no longer a guarantee (though there is reason to doubt the whole “changing careers seven times” idea). The truth is that most of the current students will enter a workforce where instability is the new normal and where they will have to be self-directed, original, and creative in order to stand out.
We live in an era where robotics and artificial intelligence will replace many of our current jobs. Meanwhile, global connectivity will continue to allow companies to outsource labor to other countries. Students will have to stand out in order to thrive. In other words, even if students in the future don’t become entrepreneurs, they will have to think like entrepreneurs.
As a dad with three kids, I find this reality to be both terrifying and exciting. On one hand, I worry about what a hyper-competitive global economy will mean for them. On the other hand, it is easier than ever to create content, make connections, and choose your own destiny.
Eight Elements for Thinking Like an Entrepreneur
Over the last two years, I have interviewed various entrepreneurs in a wide range of industries. The two questions I’ve asked each time has been, “What do you wish you had learned in school?” and “What are the required skills to thrive as an entrepreneur?”  I’m not so sure that “required skills” is the right verbiage. Over time, I’ve come to believe that it’s less about a set of transferrable skills and more about a mindset. This why I’ve started asking, “What does it mean to think like an entrepreneur?”
Certain trends have emerged from these conversations. The following are the most common things I hear:
Creative risk-taking: A willingness to take creative risks mixed with a healthy realism that borders on hedging your bets. This was a theme in a great book called Originals. There is some fascinating research out there about how often the most successful entrepreneurs avoided massive risks that would have sunk their project while still taking smaller, incremental creative risks. Unfortunately, schools still tend to use grading systems that value speed and compliance over creative risk-taking.
Self-direction:  The entrepreneurs I talked to mentioned the value of taking the initiative and owning the process. It’s the idea of being a self-starter. Though most of them actually had college degrees, they all talked about some area where they were self-taught. This was a major theme of last month’s blog series on student choice. It’s the idea that students need to be empowered to own the entire learning process.
Project management: This is similar to self-direction. It’s the idea of being a self-manager. It’s the notion of setting goals, tracking progress, managing resources, and learning how to stay organized in your own system.
Empathy: This was one of the surprising trends that I noticed. Many of them talked about the need to know one’s audience and really feel what they feel and experience what they experience. Few used the word “empathy.” They were more likely to talk about humility or about listening to people. But the idea remained constant. Empathy is critical.
Systems Thinking: Entrepreneurial work requires constant systems thinking. Whether someone is looking at a supply chain or thinking about a market or simply figuring out ways to connect with an audience, entrepreneurs are constantly navigating other systems while learning how to create their own. Schools are, by nature, closed systems. I wonder what it would mean for students to learn how to navigate other systems and develop their own systems while they engage in project-based learning.
Collaboration: For all the talk of the entrepreneurs as lone rangers who simply like being self-employed, I found the opposite to be true. Those who had succeeded typically had a business partner along with a network of like-minded people that they sought out for advice. What struck me is that their description of collaboration was nothing like the group work we see in schools. Many of them worked independently on a hour-by-hour basis. The collaboration was more of a partnership, where they divided up the tasks despite working interdependently.
Divergent thinking: Few of the entrepreneurs talked about creativity, even if they engaged in creative work. Instead, they mentioned learning how to analyze problems from a different angle and find solutions with limited resources. They mentioned the value of knowing how to tweak and change things in surprising ways. They talked about flexible thinking. In other words, they were alluding to the idea of divergent thinking. Many of them described getting into trouble at school when they didn’t do things “the right way.” Many of the women I talked to mentioned the gender socialization toward expecting compliant thinking in young girls while letting boys experiment. It has me thinking that schools need to embrace the idea of divergent thinking when it comes to projects and problem-solving.
Handling rejection: Even the most thick-skinned entrepreneurs I met talked about painful moments when they were rejected in their work. Nobody tells you that you’ll need to learn how to take a punch - or even learn how to handle legitimate criticism. This is important for me to remember, because I hate giving critical feedback. I hate coming across as mean. And yet, this is the reality of entrepreneurial work. You have to learn how to take critical feedback and distinguish between the hate and the legitimate, fair criticism.
As I think about this list, I am reminded of the value of design thinking . When students engage in design thinking , they learn how to navigate systems through the entire process. They work collaboratively, but they also have to take initiative and self-manage. They own the project management process. They learn how to think divergently and take creative risks while also realizing that revision and rejection are part of the learning process.
I get it. Design thinking isn’t a magic bullet and entrepreneurial thinking isn’t the only thing that matters for students. However, there is value in learning how to think like an entrepreneur and design thinking is one of the best ways to cultivate that type of mindset. It teaches them an approach to thinking that’s different and that way of thinking, that entrepreneurial mindset, is what they take away from them at school. And if it works well, what you end up seeing is a group of students ready to tackle the world.