Learn to Earn: The Entrepreneurship Education Landscape

By Tom Vander Ark and Erik Day

Entrepreneurship education for adults is gaining momentum–it is one of the big emerging trends in adult education. It has also taken some interesting shapes due to its unique audience and the rigorous (when well-designed) requirements that result from its unique position at the intersection of opportunity identification and problem solving, design and creativity, finance and team leadership.

Startup activity, since a dip in the years following 2008 crash, has come back with a vengeance. How is the market for entrepreneurship education responding? We surveyed leading entrepreneurship programs–below is a summary of our findings starting with the least formal to full degree programs.

Coworking spaces like WeWork provide some learning and networking opportunities. At the Capital Factory in Austin, entrepreneurs get advice from mentors and introductions to investors.

Incubators. Offering more resources that co-working space, incubators are are often run by nonprofits focused on a sector (e.g., 4.0 Schools in education) or a city (e.g. 1871 in Chicago).

Accelerators. With accelerators, companies are selected based on potential; they are resident for a defined period of time and typically participate as a cohort; they receive some funding, some advice and a desk in return for an equity stake (usually between 5-10%). Y Combinator in San Francisco, which acquired Imagine K-12, is the big daddy in the space, having sponsored almost 1500 startups since 2005. Tech accelerators like 1776 in DC support some EdTech startups.

Bootcamps are, generally, 4-7 day intensive in-person gatherings that take participants through rigorous workshops, lessons, keynotes and mentorship. They are sometimes spread out over multiple weekends in order to target existing businesses (see UCLA, Spark Ann Arbor and Stanford), while some take place as a sprint (see Babson and MIT).

Target audiences run the gamut for these programs. Stanford’s bootcamp option caters primarily to current senior-level executives, while Babson’s program is aimed at both current executives and aspiring entrepreneurs. MIT seeks “early stage entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs, Individuals in transition, doctors, graduate student researchers, innovation managers, family business owners and product managers.”

General Assembly is a code school that also teaches design and startup management on campuses around the world and online.

University Certification Programs are often exclusively or primarily gained through a series of online courses. Stanford offers an all-online option, while Harvard and UCLA Extension have mixed options available at a slightly higher price point. They differ from MOOCs not just in terms of length (certifications can last anywhere from a few months to three years in duration), but also in one-on-one feedback from instructors, certificate reputation, significantly higher (in the range of 10-100x) price point and often–though not always–overall quality of curriculum.

Ed-Biz Degrees. There are two notable masters degree programs that combine business and education: Stanford’s joint MBA/MA in Education and Penn’s Graduate School of Education Program, which includes an impressive capstone project.

What They Teach–and What’s Missing

Most bootcamps advertise skill development in categories including “idea generation and development,” “communicating, financing and marketing new ideas,” “a greater understanding of the best and most current research on innovation and entrepreneurship,” “deeper insights into the people you are serving – a powerful tool for innovation,” and the ability to “identify, define and characterize problems.”

Most programs presume a basic understanding of accounting and finance (time value of money, return on investment). Most programs include the basics of team leadership and human resource management, product development and marketing. Most programs appear light on design thinking.

Many of the programs looked theoretical and lacking practical application. Entrepreneurs with an active idea are probably better off in an incubator learning on the job than shuffling through a degree program.

Other than General Assembly, which is a course-based bootcamp, none of the programs were modular offering multiple entry points allowing entrepreneurs to get what they need and keep moving. None of the certificate programs recognized prior knowledge.

From our review, it appears that education and entrepreneurship would benefit a competency map, a set of microcredentials that would recognize prior knowledge, and a variety of ways to learn that support specific needs.

For more, see:

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment

Tom Vander Ark

Check out Founder's Gym, https://medium.com/foundergym/founder-gym-graduates-share-their-experiences-19ff38967a72

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