Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

By Iqbal Abdullah in

MaGIC's Cheryl Yeoh gave her views on if entrepreneurship can be taught in The Star, March 3 2015

I would like to add my comments, based on my different experiences and motivation from the context of teaching entrepreneurship.

My views on entrepreneurship are purely based on experience. I did not have any formal education on entrepreneurship, (I am trained as an engineer) nor my immediate family members have been examples of entrepreneurship. As it is now, out my siblings and my parents, only I are currently earning a living from a business that I run.

From these experiences of mine, I believe that entrepreneurship are not dissimilar to fado, the traditional music of Lisbon. You can nuture the feel for fado (having many fado houses and public performances, as well as exposure from the media), you can learn how to write and perform fado (by watching and learning from the great fado maestros on how they perform their art) but alas you cannot teach fado. There will be pointers on techniques which you can pass on, but it is impossible for you to teach "how to fado". This sentiment is echoed by all the great fado players, and I am very sure it is the same for any art form.

Which brings me to an interesting take on entrepreneurship that I believe in: That it is a mix of science and art form. It is science from the way that you measure success: Because it is a business, you can measure what is the profit margin, or the earnings per stock, or valuation or market capitalization. Based on this numbers, so called investor will tell you if a business is growing, stagnating or losing ground and if you should invest in a certain business. The more these numbers show a positive trend, the better it is for the business

But how do you get to that measurable success is, at the very best, not measurable. Best practices from a certain market, when brought over might not work the same way in a different market. The best we have the franchise types turn key model which implements best practices but by different people, but even that still doesn't work the same all the time everywhere.

Successful entrepreneurship requires more than understanding the numbers and theories like what we learn in a business school sitting for an MBA. Business and entrepreneurship are two different animals: A successful entrepreneur can create a successful business, but a successful business might not create the successful entrepreneur.

In that context I very much agree with what Cheryl has pointed out: That the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP) does not look at purely the numbers of startup companies created. A performance indicator to gauge if entrepreneurship is taking hold that is based the amount of companies created is nonsensical.

It doesn't make sense and it doesn't show anything other than, well, the amount of companies created.

A top-down approach stating a target of so and so amount of companies should be created to boost entrepreneurship, which I have noticed we, from time and time again prefer to do, will only lead to more insubstantial companies and nonsense capital distribution, with very little impact on creating resilient and successful entrepreneurs.

Instead, a much more pedal-to-steel indicator that directly connects to the would-be entrepreneurs will serve this purpose better. We can learn from Stanford on how they use the amount of students who oversubscribe to their courses or the ratings the students have given. Entrepreneurship is a career path; For me personally, it is a way to live.

We should treat entrepreneurship like any other career path. Students from young should know that being an entrepreneur is also a viable career, like being a policewoman, a mechanic, a pilot, or a lawyer or a doctor. But unlike a policewoman who enforces the law or a pilot who flies a plane, the entrepreneur creates value to the public and her customers by solving problems with a purpose that will be sustainable for her, her family and her employees.

But in the end, it is up to the entrepreneur on why she decides to become one. For the pilot, it might be the blue skies and travelling the world. For the policewoman, it might be because of her sense of justice and conviction. This reason or purpose, in the end, is the single most important driver behind successful entrepreneurs.

Knowing wanting to achieve this goal and being able to do so by creating sustainable value is the first step of being an entrepreneur. Unfortunately this cannot be taught. What we, as the society and the education system can the best do is to say that these goals can be achieved and have tangible tools like infrastructure and access to human and monetary capital accessible.

Like any good artist, give them the tools, step back and watch them work!