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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Nytch

Entrepreneurship Pedagogy: A world of options

Updated: May 13, 2018

There are interesting tensions in the realm of entrepreneurship education. As I return from my first trip to the US Association of Small Business & Entrepreneurship conference in New Orleans, I am struck anew by how divergent and interrelated these tensions are.

For starters, there is the perennial debate about what, precisely, entrepreneurship is. Is it a set of behaviors? A methodology? Even an innate set of psychological characteristics that predispose certain individuals to be entrepreneurial?

Then there are different schools of entrepreneurial practice. There's the traditional approach, which suggests that successful entrepreneurs study markets for unmet demand and create innovative solutions to meet that demand. Then there's the "effectuation" model, which suggests that many entrepreneurs start with the resources at hand -- their talent, their creativity, and whatever human and physical assets at their disposal -- and develop expressions of those resources that resonate with the sensibilities of a particular segment of the marketplace. This often leads to the creation of new markets altogether, as opposed to simply inventing a better mousetrap for an existing market. (Creatives mostly practice effectuation, it seems to me.)

On top of that, there are tensions between the many different applications of entrepreneurial activity, from the traditional for-profit venture creation model to social and non-profit ventures -- not to mention the artistic realm, with its for-profit and non-profit variants and venture scales ranging from a large organization (a symphony orchestra) to a sole proprietor (an aspiring violinist or visual artist).

And overarching all of these interwoven threads is the tension found within many disciplines: the tension between theory and practice. At an academic conference such as USASBE, there are no shortage of folks interested in things like models of consumption and how psychology can illuminate the nature of entrepreneurial behavior. But I'm happy to say that I also encountered also a healthy dose of appreciation for the fact that entrepreneurship, perhaps even more than many disciplines, is truly meaningful only when it results in concrete action. Just as a medicinal formula is not useful unless it can be made into a viable treatment for disease, entrepreneurship theory isn't worth much unless it helps aspiring entrepreneurs be more successful with their goals and aspirations.

And that's where the biggest challenge of them all comes in: how does one teach entrepreneurship? At this conference I saw three very distinct pedagogies introduced for teaching arts entrepreneurship, each one fascinating and useful, each one limited in one way or the other, and all of them dramatically different in their approach. As momentum for teaching entrepreneurship to arts students builds steam nationwide, is there a standard which can be applied to create a codified, unified pedagogy for teaching arts entrepreneurship? Or is it perhaps more in keeping with the goals of the field itself for each school to develop its own unique approach that is tailored to the needs and sensibilities of its students and community? When does theory squelch the very free-thinking creativity that is essential for entrepreneurial innovation?

It seems to me that the answer lies in entrepreneurship itself. What are the needs of the market I'm trying to reach (my students at my institution)? What resources do I have at my disposal to meet those needs? What products might I develop that would create new demand for what I have to offer? Though my students at University of Colorado may share many needs with students from the Manhattan School of Music or the Oberlin Conservatory, it's also true that the student culture at CU is its own unique animal, and the culture of the school is distinct as well: one-size-fits-all pedagogy is not likely to be the best approach to reaching them (particularly with something like entrepreneurship which is, at first glance, a completely foreign and irrelevant endeavor to them).

I return to Colorado filled with ideas for how I might tweak or enhance my curriculum, but also reaffirmed that we've "doing it right" at CU. And while there are of course still challenges and the need for broader "purchase" of my "product," I'm approaching the problem as an entrepreneurial question in and of itself, confident that if I employ the same tactics I teach my students, things will continue to grow and flourish.

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