Business Schools Should be Transformed to Drive Entrepreneurism Universities should empower students with the skills to push an idea through to implementation.

By Rory O'Shea

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


As we continue to recover from a global recession and look to the future, it's imperative that we build more entrepreneurial-driven academic institutions. Not only will this provide the foundation for much-needed innovation, it also will strengthen economies by providing jobs and fostering sustainable growth in enterprises.

Lessons can be learned from universities around the world about accelerating entrepreneurship. They can provide the model for how to create clusters of commercially successful startups around research-driven institutions. However, the success of that model largely depends on the role of the business school within that university setting.

Related: The Secret Entrepreneurial Lessons of a Liberal Arts Education

This starts with the curriculum, which represents the heart of an entrepreneurial program. Business schools must take the lead in delivering education to all disciplines across the university, facilitating access to a suite of innovation and entrepreneurship-related courses. Working with peers from differing disciplines, business school faculty must design an entrepreneurship curriculum that provides students with a transformational experience based on action-learning techniques. An example from MIT is the Innovation Teams (I-Teams) course, which brings together students from MIT Sloan and the MIT School of Engineering for a semester-long project assessing the commercial feasibility of novel MIT technologies.

These cross-disciplinary courses should empower students with entrepreneurial skills and judgment. More than simply offering a subject that can be studied and researched, entrepreneurship educators should see their role as transforming students, campuses, communities and societies.

Business schools need to drive innovation to empower students with the skills to push an idea through to implementation. By doing this, students will develop the entrepreneurial mindset to experiment, take risks, explore new opportunities, tolerate failure and strive to overcome obstacles.

Related: Should I Quit Engineering and Study Business?

It is also essential that business schools develop excellent research programs to create and disseminate high-impact intellectual capital and attract top PhD students and faculty members. Through these centers, the business school can become a thought leader in global discussions.

In addition, business schools should create an integrated unit (referred to as the magnet model in academic literature) to support formal and informal, out-of-class learning across campus, and to encourage the entire community (academic and research staff, students and alumni) to think about startup opportunities. To make this model work successfully at MIT, the Entrepreneurship Center works in conjunction with academics from other disciplines and experienced entrepreneurs, emphasizing informal cross-disciplinary liaisons.

Given that we live in an increasingly networked world, alliances with other academic institutions will be critical to future success. We need to create opportunities for students and academics to gain first-hand experience with the dynamics of globalization. A noteworthy example is SkyDeck Global, which is currently looking to attract the most promising international startups from around the world by providing them with the resources and experts of the Bay Area/Silicon Valley and UC Berkeley.

The final part of this business school transformation involves developing closer ties with industry to foster a culture that plants seeds for spin-off activity. Executive education is an attractive option, as it engages companies from around the world, thus raising the international reputation of the school. It's appealing to faculty too; interacting with alumni, business and community leaders ensures that their scholarship and teaching remains relevant to the critical challenges facing business and society.

Steered correctly, business schools can demonstrate how innovation and entrepreneurship can play a lead role in transforming lives and communities.

Related: Uncommon Wisdom for the Entrepreneurial Generation

Wavy Line

Rory O’Shea is a visiting professor in innovation and entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan School of Management and a faculty member at the Smurfit Graduate School of Business of University College in Dublin, Ireland. He also is co-editor of Building Technology Transfer: An Entrepreneurial Approach (Cambridge University Press 2014).

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