Weak entrepreneurship education could provoke backlash

Fri Aug 16, 2013 1:31pm EDT
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By Sarah McBride

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - When Bill Aulet tries to hire faculty to bolster entrepreneurship courses at MIT, where he is a senior lecturer at the Sloan School of Management, he often runs up against a familiar challenge.

"We bring in people and interview them all the time," he said at a breakfast in San Francisco last week to mark the publication of his new book, "Disciplined Entrepreneurship." "They're not MIT rigor. And we get to see the best of the best."

The paucity of teaching talent underscores what he sees as the biggest drawback in entrepreneurship education: much of it is subpar, relying on what he describes as inspirational anecdotes rather than demanding courses that teach discrete behaviors and processes. The situation could cause a backlash against entrepreneurship, he said.

Such a backlash, Aulet said, could lead to undesirable outcomes including lack of policy geared toward entrepreneurship - such as tax breaks, or visas for foreign entrepreneurs - or fewer people starting companies.

"Entrepreneurs won't receive the support they need," he said in an interview with Reuters.

His outlook led him to write "Disciplined Entrepreneurship," which he said fills in some of the gaps for students not lucky enough to attend entrepreneurship classes at MIT. It focuses on how to settle on and deliver the right product for a start-up, through chapters such as market segmentation, product specification and pricing frameworks.

He sees the book supplementing programs offered at universities and private institutions such as the incubators that try to foster young companies, including Y Combinator, based in Mountain View, Calif., and TechStars, held in several locations around the country.

Aulet, who is also the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, is not alone in his reasoning when it comes to the academic programs and the students they attract.   Continued...

Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and author of Disciplined Entrepreneurship, is pictured in this 2012 handout photo provided by the MIT Sloan School of Management. REUTERS/MIT Sloan School of Management/Handout via Reuters