Can entrepreneurship be taught? | Advice | Small Business Connect

Alex Antonites

When we read “entrepreneurship” and “training” in the same sentence, a number of people frown. As the old question goes, “can entrepreneurship be taught?”

The answer is a well-prepared YES, based on over 60 years of research findings.

Individuals can be trained to be more entrepreneurial, but keep in mind not all of us are entrepreneurs.

It is unrealistic to expect that a quick-fix training intervention will make an entrepreneur of you in three days. Skills development is just one part of learning that shapes your entrepreneurial potential and intent. To be more entrepreneurial requires very specific skills sets in order to enhance your entrepreneurial performance, and this applies to all stages of the process – from startup to growth-phase.

Every stage also requires different skills sets coupled with advanced methods of learning as you progress.

You don’t need a degree or diploma to make it in the hard world of business, but the world is rapidly changing and becoming increasingly complex and turbulent. Relevant skills development equips you with the tools to play in this complex game called business and/or entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is an applied field; to learn in the entrepreneurial space requires action application after knowledge.

A mere theoretical account of what entrepreneurship, the entrepreneurial process and a business plan is something learners can Google and read on their own.

Skills development requires applying what you have learned in the entire training process. Skills should include entrepreneurial skills (e.g. creativity, innovation and opportunity finding) as well as small business management skills (e.g. general management; marketing and sales; financial management; business modelling; operations; legal; communication; and human capital management).

The latter should be contextualized in the small business environment and not merely be reconfigured corporate training.

The skills obtained from entrepreneurship training – even very practical ones – are not enough for one to claim entrepreneurial success. Your experience over time, trial and error, and lifelong learning shapes success at the end.

We don’t believe in short-term “feel good” entrepreneurial sessions where the lecturer recites from a foreign textbook and use himself or herself as the case study. We also don’t believe in “death by PowerPoint”.

Substance and depth in training as well as customisation to relevant branches of industry makes for a far more positive learning experience, especially if relevant technology is applied in the process.

In this context, the best teachers are or were entrepreneurs who either failed or made it. I firmly believe that paper case studies are old school (we all know what Sol Kerzner, Herman Mashaba and Patrice Motsepe did to make it); in class, we use live cases that are relevant to the audience (e.g. specific to age, industry and development stage).

If you want to improve your entrepreneurial performance and eventually achieve success, spend your money wisely on programmes that add real value.

Time is an issue for all entrepreneurs. Taking the time to sit in a class for five days could kill your business. Therefore, an online course with direct application in your business could benefit your experience by learning every day in your own time and pace.

So make sure that you invest in skills development that has substance, reflects entrepreneurial principles, fits your profile and addresses your skills gaps.

  •  Alex Antonites, senior lecturer in the Department of Business Management and the chair for entrepreneurship at the University of Pretoria, runs an online course aimed at entrepreneurs starting a business. Enrolment closes end of April 2014. The cost for the course is R4 950. For more information, call 012 434 2500.