The Evolving Role of Business Education

The Evolving Role of Business Education

A new model is emerging for educating a new generation of business people.

Technology, which has already devastated factory jobs, is beginning to affect middle- and upper-middle-class jobs. A majority of the jobs today’s elementary school students will be working at do not even exist today. Are today’s business curricula preparing students with the required skills?

Business programs were designed to serve the needs of large corporations. Today, many schools are abandoning the MBA program. The market is signaling that these programs are past their prime.

The fastest-growing business segment of the future is the business of one. We should all be preparing for a “1099 economy.” Educational institutions should broaden the narrative to prepare people with entrepreneurial essentials, even if they may not see themselves as unicorn-builders.

The next-generation problem-solving ecosystem will coalesce around a university. More and more universities have caught the entrepreneurial bug. While their leadership emphasizes the value of entrepreneurship, their pedagogical approach and organizational infrastructure are inconsistent with the entrepreneurial process. Traditional curricular and co-curricular activities don’t fit. A significant opportunity exists to train creative and talented people who can function in the emerging environment.

A panel of entrepreneurial educators in the Twin Cities recently discussed the opportunity of mass education of skills for the emerging economy. Some key observations:

  • A need to define entrepreneurship and prepare tools to teach it.
  • Getting beyond the fads (lean startup, human-centered design, etc.) to the basics. These include:

    •Critical thinking and problem-solving
    •Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
    •Agility and adaptability n Initiative and entrepreneurship
    •Effective oral and written communication
    •Assessing and analyzing information
    •Curiosity and imagination

  • Delivery of these basics tailored to students arriving with a wide variety of skills.
  • Integration of these basics into the core curriculum at both the graduate and undergraduate level.
  • Merging vocational skills with business acumen.
  • Linking with high schools that are focused on entrepreneurship.

The academic program design itself should have some key features:

  • Flexibility: Changing the core program based on its effectiveness.
  • Practice: Providing a growth mindset augmented with practical learning. We need to go beyond introduction to terms and add essential skills and competencies—details such as how to start a business, developing the persistence to overcome failure, etc.
  • Execution: Imparting superior execution skills; most new companies will not be based on new technologies.
  • Self-reliance: Avoiding over-dependence on venture capital.
  • Academic and practical perspective: Value both to tease out best practices.
  • Ecosystem hub: This can be a gateway between the resources of a university and a smaller business. It should bring together fragmented activities by collaborating with various related entities such as funders, creative types, engineers, etc.
  • Maker spaces, incubators, accelerators: Providing places for hands-on experimentation and building from the idea up.
  • Co-curricular activities:

    •Business plan competitions
    •Links with mentors
    •Internships with community entrepreneurs
    •Peer-to-peer learning activities
    •Opportunities for global awareness through international projects

  • Educating parents on the value of entrepreneurial education beyond traditional courses.
  • Delivery: Vetted content from a variety of sources through online programs.
  • Mastery-based progression: Rather than the traditional progress based on time spent in a course.

This is the panel’s wish list. To achieve even a fraction of this, many obstacles will need to be removed. They are:

  • Unstable funding: Be part of a university’s strategic plan and on a sustainable fundraising path. Without such an endowment the program will forever be chasing tuition dollars and fighting other disciplines for access.
  • Narrow base: Growth in entrepreneurship should be university-wide, in liberal arts as well as engineering and other sciences. Without other skills, entrepreneurial education is not sufficient preparation.
  • Confinement to the business school: Accreditation requirements fold entrepreneurial education under business school rules. To gain university-wide adoption, this program should be outside the business school. Attendees should be able to find a problem that is within their own chosen domain; the task is to educate them and develop skills to execute on that. This will require links with the broader faculty and enough funding that the program can stand on its own feet.

Chances are a majority of your students are not going to start a venture. The criteria for success should be measured by performance in the marketplace—whether starting a business, finding a job or doing well.

Rajiv Tandon is executive director of the Institute for Innovators and Entrepreneurs and an advocate for the future of entrepreneurship in Minnesota. He facilitates peer groups of Minnesota CEOs. He can be reached at

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