THE ARTICLE entitled "The Road to a Nation of Business Builders" (THES, October 31) addresses a critical issue for British universities; how do you develop educational programmes for your next generation of entrepreneurs?
The opening paragraphs of the article perpetuate the myth that "an entrepreneur is born". The belief that certain traits explain differences in behaviour offers a simplistic explanation for the dramatic differences in human performance and outcomes. If we accept that certain people are endowed with entrepreneurial traits then we can conclude that entrepreneurship is impossible to teach.
An examination of trait theory as a tool for identifying entrepreneurs shows the limitations of such thinking. Two traits often associated with entrepreneurship are risk taking and a strong locus of control (taking responsibility for outcomes). Using these traits to screen for entrepreneurs fails because the traits that contribute to successful entrepreneurial behaviour are equally important for many professionals including surgeons, barristers and artists. Examining entrepreneurs to identify traits that contribute to their business success is equally problematic. A sample of successful entrepreneurs will include a diversity of people.
Entrepreneurship education should be a key part of the curriculum. Many US universities have created entrepreneurship programmes. My university has helped students develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes that supports the creation and management of successful ventures. Entrepreneurship education should teach critical thinking, encourage self-awareness and develop capable and productive individuals.
Many students completing entrepreneurship programmes will go on to start new businesses. Equally important, however, are the students who become self-employed, successfully contribute to other businesses or pursue a rewarding non-business career. No one believes that every student that studies history at university will become a historian. The same expectations should be applied to the study of entrepreneurship.
Randel S. Carlock
Opus professor of family enterprise, University of St. Thomas Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA