It’s a question that has been debated for years: can entrepreneurship be taught?
Yes! But also no.
Let us explain. First…
What is entrepreneurship?
Before we can answer the question of whether or not entrepreneurship can be taught, we need to first define what entrepreneurship is.
At its core, entrepreneurship is the process of identifying a need or opportunity in the marketplace and then using creativity and innovation to develop a solution. This solution can be in the form of a product, service, or even a new business model. The key skill here is how to spot opportunities.
Now, you might be thinking: great! I can do that! I’m always coming up with ideas and spotting opportunities. And indeed, lots of people are very good at doing this.
However, what separates the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, is your ability to properly evaluate those opportunities.
Far too many entrepreneurs set out to solve problems that no one really has.
A classic example of this is the Juicero startup. Juicero was a $700 wi-fi connected machine that designed to sit on your kitchen counter. It used proprietary single-serving packets of pre-juiced fruits and vegetables, sold exclusively by the company via subscription, to make fresh juice drinks and smoothies. The packets were $5 each.
The thing is, juice isn’t that hard to find. The average grocery store carries several kinds of juice, as well as juice concentrates, and most even stock pre-mixed smoothies. If you want super fresh juice, well, blenders can be had for a lot less than $700. Juicero was, quite frankly, a solution to a problem that nobody had.
The other key quality of an entrepreneur is being able to execute on their ideas.
Juicero didn’t do this either. They developed a beautiful machine… that would only work with their proprietary packets. You couldn’t buy produce and juice your own fruit and vegetables, so you were locked into buying their packets if you wanted to enjoy a drink. Worse still, it turned out that the packages could be squeezed (juiced) by hand, so you didn’t need the fancy (and expensive!) machine.
And of course, the company generated all sorts of waste in the form of the juice packets, and the single-purpose machine itself. The company shut down in 2017, and torched tens of millions of dollars of investor money in the process.
So… teaching entrepreneurship?
To recap, the three fundamental skills an entrepreneur must have are: spotting opportunities, evaluating them, and executing on them. Can these be taught?
Yes, in two ways. The first way is to try and fail. And then do it again. And again. Eventually, you might work out the reasons why you aren’t winning. (Although many don’t!)
As you can imagine, this gets expensive, fast. Not to mention, having to fire people because the business died can wreck lives.
The second way is to learn and then do. There are many different schools that offer courses on entrepreneurship. These courses can give you the theoretical knowledge you need to start your own business. They can also provide you with the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice through internships, group projects, and other hands-on learning experiences.
In addition to formal education, there are also many books (including ours, of course), podcasts, articles, and other resources available that can teach you about entrepreneurship.
The key here is not to assume that you know how to run a business because you’ve taken courses or read books on the subject. You’ll be a lot better equipped to run one, and you’ll improve your chances of success by an order of magnitude IF you’re paying attention. (More on this below.) But as they say, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. You won’t truly know how to run a business until you’ve actually spent time running a business.
Can you learn entrepreneurship?
This is the real question. Juicero’s founders had clearly looked at the success of the coffee pod industry and figured they could do the same for juice.
What they didn’t do is absorb the lessons of the coffee pod industry. First, pod makers did solve existing “problems.” Coffee typically has to be made in pots, which isn’t convenient if you’re living on your own or there’s just the two of you. Coffee making is also a slightly more complicated process than throwing fruit and vegetables into a blender.
You can buy individual servings of coffee, but you have to go out of the house for that, and it’s quite expensive, relatively speaking. You can make smaller servings of coffee in a French press, but they sometimes don’t do a great job of filtering out the grounds. You also have to wait a while for the coffee to brew.
Coffee pod machines are fast, offer single servings, unlikely to drop grounds into your cup, and they came in a variety of flavours. While more expensive per cup than a pot of coffee, they were cheaper than takeout.
Significantly, the first iterations of coffee pods also received a lot of pushback. They generate a lot of waste, and for a while, you couldn’t use non-proprietary pods in certain machines.
A costly legal battle forced pod machine makers to allow non-proprietary pods, and we still have a waste problem, although there are some brands that are compostable and others that are recyclable.
A hard look at what worked and didn’t work in this industry might have saved Juicero – and its investors — a lot of time and money.
Other important aspects
In order to be successful, an entrepreneur needs to have a number of other skills and qualities, including creativity, innovation, risk-taking, perseverance, and determination.
Some people seem to be born with these traits, and thus are naturally inclined to be entrepreneurs.
Others might have to work hard to cultivate these qualities in themselves. Creativity, for example, might be fostered by taking classes in things like photography, or painting, to expose yourself to new ways of thinking and visualizing. Something like determination might be a lot harder to develop if you don’t have at least a small core of resolve in the first place.
There is no simple yes or no answer to the question of whether or not entrepreneurship can be taught in a classroom setting. However, there are some skills and mindsets that can be learned that will help you on your entrepreneurial journey.
Image credit: Midjourney