Posted by: Tom Ross | September 26, 2012

The Education of the Entrepreneur: Part One

Can Entrepreneurship Be Learned?

When Richard Branson’s mom was asked, Can entrepreneurship be taught? she said, “Yes!” (It all began when she cured her son’s shyness as a child.)

But can students learn entrepreneurial skills in a classroom?

Harvard Business School professor Dr. Noam Wasserman believes you can teach aspiring entrepreneurs informed technical processes to preempt historic start-up mistakes. He says, “We can teach founders to use [data] to avoid common hazards.” His belief is that an entrepreneur can be taught much like an accountant, an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer.

Peter Drucker—who taught ‘knowledge-based business education’ at Claremont Graduate University—put it this way in his 1985 book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship:“Entrepreneurship is risky mainly because so few of the so-called entrepreneurs know what they are doing.”

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Victor Hwang, on the other hand, feels entrepreneurship can’t be taught. He says start-up life is simply too messy. Real entrepreneurs must have a broad spectrum of personal experiences to deal with the unexpected, unprecedented, and the unquantifiable. He also states, “Leading a start-up also demands a deep understanding of people that can only come from real world experience.” (From

And some believe that entrepreneurs are just born that way.

When we think of entrepreneurs, we think of self-made individuals like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. In the stories of their successful businesses, all they seemed to need was an idea, some like-minded friends, and a garage. And the courage to take the risk.

Alex Lawrence in Forbes Magazine believes there are three kinds of entrepreneurs: small, medium and large. “[For the large,] think Google or Apple and in some smaller examples Toms Shoes or Papa John’s Pizza.  The founders of these companies were born to be entrepreneurs and while they clearly have learned a lot along the way, the things that make them successful are simply traits that cannot be taught.  How does one teach another how to build a search engine that will change the entire planet?  Clearly there is much more than lines of code that matter.  The [large entrepreneur] knows no other way.  They will risk everything and anything, time and again, to make a global impact.  Anything smaller feels like a waste of time to them.  It’s in their DNA.”

Maybe the answer is yes and no.

“Some entrepreneurs may be born while others made, but what is true is that all of them need to develop and hone the skills needed to create and grow a business,” said Douglas K. Mellinger, vice-chairman and co-founder of Foundation Source and a trustee at Cogswell College. “We need to reinvent the way we prepare our students to enter the business world by enabling them to start and run businesses while in school.” According to a survey Cogwell College commissioned, 73 percent of Americans say that the best way to teach a student to become an entrepreneur is to enable them to create businesses or intern.

These questions and many others were addressed at the Entrepreneurship in Education Conference—“Launch it! Grow it! Move it!”—in Fresno last week, an event presented by the Business & Entrepreneurship Center (BEC) Program and hosted by the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (at Fresno State) at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center.  We’ll be sharing some of those answers with you in Part Two of this series on The Education of the Entrepreneur. And we’ll introduce you to several serial entrepreneurs and their stories. Stay tuned!


  1. […] The Education of the Entrepreneur: Part One […]

  2. […] entrepreneurship be learned? In Part One (see below) of our series, The Education of the Entrepreneur, we looked at some of the debate […]

  3. […] Parts One and Two of our feature series, The Education of the Entrepreneur, we addressed the current debate […]

  4. […] The Education of the Entrepreneur: Part One […]

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