How to train entrepreneurs in five steps

What training is needed to help aspiring entrepreneurs develop the skills they will need? George Chondrakis shares five vital steps

George Chondrakis 's avatar
30 May 2023
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Entrepreneurship is an exciting and challenging journey, and training entrepreneurs is a crucial part of building a sustainable ecosystem for start-ups. While some believe that entrepreneurship cannot be taught, there is robust evidence that entrepreneurship training can help aspiring business founders develop the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed. But what does it take to create a state-of-the-art training programme? In this article, we discuss five vital steps.

1. Encourage people to experience entrepreneurship before starting a business

Students must have the opportunity to experience entrepreneurship first-hand and determine whether it is the right path for them. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, and it is essential to identify this as early as possible. By allowing individuals to work with start-ups, hear stories from founders, or by confronting them with the challenges of mobilising talent and resources, they gain a better understanding of the skills required to start and run a business.

So, encourage students to do internships in start-ups, regularly invite founders to classes as guest speakers and let students work on their entrepreneurial projects for course credits. These experiences help them make an informed decision about whether or not they wish to be an entrepreneur. Importantly, it can save them a lot of time and resources that would have been wasted pursuing an unfulfilling career path.

2. Get people to become comfortable with uncertainty

Entrepreneurs face a high degree of uncertainty in their ventures, and it is essential for them to be comfortable with this. Starting a business involves taking calculated risks, learning from failures and making decisions with relatively unknown outcomes. There is no guarantee of success.

Teach students to critically assess their ideas and to constantly question their assumptions. This message can be reinforced through frameworks such as the Lean Startup, as well as through detailed case studies of companies that had to redefine their business model multiple times as they discovered more about their consumers. It is important to present the entrepreneurial journey to students for what it is: not the story of the iconic founder who persevered despite all odds, but a messy, convoluted and unpredictable path that constantly evolves.  

3. Convince people not to fall in love with their idea

Entrepreneurs are often biased when it comes to evaluating their own ideas. They identify closely with their firms, making them hesitant to change their approach or admit when something is not working. They may disregard negative feedback and fail to see potential flaws or weaknesses in their business models.

This overconfidence is tricky to avoid, but students can be taught to manage its impact by taking an evidence-based approach. Students should be encouraged to define clear and strict criteria about the milestones they need to hit before deciding whether to continue with their ideas. This is critical to avoid prolonging projects that are doomed to fail.

Ask students to appoint a “devil’s advocate” in their team, responsible for being the dissenting voice. This role is important as it constantly challenges the assumptions of the founding team and provides an important breathing space for more unorthodox ideas.

A successful business is not built on a single idea, but rather on the ability to adapt over time. And entrepreneurs should be ready to scrap their old plans and start anew.

4. Urge entrepreneurs to constantly look for feedback

Entrepreneurs should not be hesitant to share their ideas and ask for feedback, even if they are worried that someone might steal their idea. In fact, the benefits of receiving feedback far outweigh the potential risks. By sharing their ideas with others, entrepreneurs get valuable insights into the needs and preferences of their target market, which can inform their business strategies.

So, ask students to present their early-stage ideas in class and at informal meet-ups with successful entrepreneurs. This allows them to test their initial intuition and quickly identify any critical problems they will need to solve before developing their business model. Give students access to a large and diverse network of mentors who can provide pro bono advice during and after their time studying. We find that this works particularly well with mentors from our alumni network, because the common connection makes it much easier to build trust and engage in a frank exchange of ideas.

5. Teach entrepreneurs to think like scientists

Entrepreneurs need to learn to think like scientists. They should develop hypotheses about their business ideas, test them rigorously, and use data to inform their decision-making. We teach this approach using the Value Lab, a framework that allows entrepreneurs to create and test their theories of value creation. The basis of this framework is contrarian beliefs, which are insights that go against received wisdom and allow entrepreneurs to unlock untapped market opportunities. By adopting the scientific method, entrepreneurs are taught to describe their ideas as a set of hypotheses that need to be constantly tested and, if necessary, adjusted. This approach allows entrepreneurs to stay focused on the data and evidence rather than personal biases or intuition, increasing the likelihood of long-term success.

George Chondrakis is director of the Esade Entrepreneurship Institute (EEI) at Esade.

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