Where are the University-educated entrepreneurs?

Branson at the Time 100 Gala, May 4, 2010

Sir Richard Branson at the Time 100 Gala, May 4, 2010 http://bit.ly/9cnlbb

I heard yet another item this morning on Radio 4 about the high-profile entrepreneurs who didn’t go to university. A 17 year-old who is running his own successful business talked about his friends who would be leaving university saddled with debt, while he would be earning money all of the time. The item quoted the likes of Sir Richard Branson (above), Lord Sugar, and Sir Philip Green as successful entrepreneurs who didn’t feel the need for academic qualifications.

This is a line which the media loves to push, and it strikes a chord in the popular psyche. Which leads me to think, “who are the successful University-educated entrepreneurs? And why don’t we hear about them?” I know a number of people, including the redoubtable Kelly Smith of Huddersfield University, who are working hard to instil a spirit of enterprise in university students, but still the media obsesses about those who avoided the academic route.

It is that university suppresses the entrepreneurial spirit, OR is it that the Bransons and Sugars are actually exceptions to the rule, and that’s why they get so much attention? The reporting of their cases would suggest otherwise, have we been duped?

One thought on “Where are the University-educated entrepreneurs?

  1. In my experience enterprise is essentially learned experientially. The number of variables involved across a wide range of disciplines, psychology, economics, marketing to name but three, and the large part played by the cosmic joker that is ‘luck’ means that each entrepreneur has to figure out what works for them in their context.

    This is why the pedagogy of enterprise education is no important. It is less about teaching stuff than facilitating enquiry, problem solving, critical thinking and above all perhaps resilience and self awareness. Self awareness because entrepreneurship can be a deeply corrupting endeavour.

    Now of course some stuff can be taught about enterprise (the difference between net and gross for example – a lesson which Branson famously was unable to learn) – but this stuff is not what Carl Rogers called ‘significant’ learning. All significant learning comes from self discovery.

    And universities are perhaps less good at supporting self discovery than they could be… largely because of an emphasis on pass routes and curriculum. NEA will probably fall foul of the same ‘educational’ economy.


    for more on Rogers and learning about enterprise…

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