by Mark Boslet
Can entrepreneurship be taught in a classroom setting, or is it a set of skills learned only by doing?
MIT professor William Aulet clearly comes down on the taught side of the debate. But instruction has to be done in the right way.
An entrepreneur himself, Aulet describes building a company as a craft and not a science. He also admits it requires an element of apprenticeship.
“It is not an algorithm,” he said. “It is not a science: if you do A and B you get C. There are too many other things going on.”
It also is not an art.
“If you say it is an art, then you will never make much progress because that’s for a very small number of people,” he said. “If we say it is a craft, like pottery, all of a sudden that is accessible to everyone.”
Aulet said his goal is to raise the bar for teaching entrepreneurship and to make it a serious eld with a substantial body of knowledge. The country needs to move away from the privatization of that knowledge, and academic institutions have a role to play, he said.
VCJ recently had the opportunity to speak with Aulet about venture investing and teaching entrepreneurship. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
Q: The debate about teaching entrepreneurship continues. Can you explain your position?
A: Entrepreneurship is an unquestionably a learnable skill. We see the data on that. The more times you are an entrepreneur, the more likely you are to be successful.
Yet the same people who say, ‘This is why I like to invest in entrepreneurs who are repeat entrepreneurs,’ will say on the other hand, ‘You can’t teach entrepreneurship.’
Wait a second. It’s learnable, but it’s not teachable? I don’t buy that. It’s learnable. We just have to do a better job teaching it.
Q: What do you hope for from VCs in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in the country?
A: It’s in venture capitalists’ interest to support educational institutions to create more entrepreneurs. It is not in their interests in the short term because they want to get that next deal. So it’s this bigger, long-term picture to do that.
That is very hard to ask. The onus is on some of the more established, successful entrepreneurs and successful VCs to support educational institutions. Somebody needs to teach people how to sh. We need not hundreds of entrepreneurs, or thousands of entrepreneurs. We need millions of entrepreneurs. This is the point of inclusive entrepreneurship. I believe that is doable, but we are not doing it yet.