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Dec. 6, 2023

Faculty voice: Can you teach entrepreneurship?

Ken Szymusiak is the managing director for the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Ken Szymusiak poses in a polo shirt
Ken Szymusiak. Courtesy photo

One of the most common questions that come my way is: “Can you truly teach entrepreneurship?” Answering this isn't straightforward. In many respects, the answer is self-selecting. Did you start a new venture or not? Yet, the depth of this question demands a more comprehensive analysis. But, at the Burgess Institute, we (and I personally agree) think there is much more to unpack with this concept of entrepreneurial education.

Looking at the origin of the word “entrepreneur,” one will find its roots in the French verb entreprendre,” which translates to “to initiate or undertake.” This revelation nudges us to see entrepreneurship through a broader lens, highlighting the many ways education can shape this mindset.

Consider these scenarios:

  • Being the 12th employee at a burgeoning startup.
  • Stepping up to lead a family enterprise.
  • Investing in a franchise.
  • Spearheading a new product within an established firm.
  • Orchestrating a nonprofit addressing pressing challenges within the community.

The common thread weaving through these instances is the essence of entrepreneurial activity. And here’s a vital point: this spirit isn’t the exclusive domain of business graduates.

Recognizing this universality, MSU introduced the entrepreneurship and innovation minor, emphasizing nurturing an “entrepreneurial mindset.” While only a fraction (10-15%) of students within the minor might embark on creating ventures from scratch, each student will, in time, find a professional niche. The question is: How can education equip them to be proactive, innovative leaders within their domains?

Our approach is holistic. We ensure students:

  1. Cultivate creativity and problem-solving skills.
  2. Acquire actionable, relevant knowledge.
  3. Become immersed in experiential learning.

Supporting this curriculum is an ecosystem teeming with opportunities: student organizations, such as MSU Entrepreneurship Association and MSU Women in Entrepreneurship, access to top-tier mentorship and venture support with Burgess Institute Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, and venture creation programs, the Burgess New Venture Challenge, and interactions with thought leaders via the Innovate State Speaker Series.

Returning to our initial question — rather than asking whether entrepreneurship can be taught, shouldn't we be asking, “Can you create an educational experience that will prepare a student to be more entrepreneurial?” We believe the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Our world is at a pivotal juncture. Though foundational challenges are being addressed, what looms ahead are complex problems demanding innovative solutions. While startups, in their conventional sense, are integral, we need trailblazers across all sectors — be they established businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, or academic institutions. No matter if you're an anthropology, human biology, or finance major, the world needs your entrepreneurial mindset. Entrepreneurship education emerges as a critical pillar in this journey towards a brighter, more prosperous future.

This story originally appeared on the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation website.

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