Teaching Entrepreneurship “know-how” as well as “know-about”


By Nigel Adams of the University of Buckingham Business School

I was interested to read Professor Martin Binks recent blog “Our students need ‘know-how’ as well as ‘know-about’” and completely agreed with his argument. I also invited Martin to meet my BSc Business Enterprise (BBE) Venture Creation Programme students at the University of Buckingham. A visit to Buckingham will reveal that some of what Martin proposes is already in action and has produced great results for the students, the Business School and the University.

Our BSc Business Enterprise (BBE) programme is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. It was the world’s first Undergraduate Venture Creation Programme. This niche programme combines academic rigour with experiential learning, as BBE students must start and run their own real business, as an integral part of their honours degree. The students’ results have been impressive, improving each year for the last four years and over 64% of the first 9 cohorts of graduates achieved first or 2.1 honours degrees. Since 2007, thirty businesses have been started or continued by BBE graduates.

Martin Binks mentioned being “constrained by organisational circumstances, centralisation and the steady erosion of academics’ management duties”. This has not affected us at the University of Buckingham as we are small and independent. We also must face the “real world” forces of “creative destruction” and so cannot settle into a “rut of inertia”. Our small size also means that we don’t have “silos”, so colleagues from different schools often work with each other. For example, I have worked with our Applied Computing Department to develop a new BSc in Computing and Software Entrepreneurship, which was launched in January 2016. Other similar innovative entrepreneurial education programmes are being planned.

Martin suggested that the approach to the curriculum should be to avoid universities’ longstanding segmentation of business disciplines into separate areas of study. We have introduced key activities such as our regular Innovation & Entrepreneurship Workshops led by visiting entrepreneurs and including networking with local businesses; using the Business Model Canvas in addition to the traditional business plan; and presenting Selling Yourself and Your Products Workshops combining the best type of sales training with an academic approach. However we still also teach traditional business school subjects such as Marketing, Finance, Accounting, Law, Strategy and Operations Management.

Our undergraduate students take business school theories and immediately put them into practice, they then often question the theories they have been taught as a result of their experience using these theoretical approaches in their start-up businesses. As many entrepreneurship and enterprise educators have suggested, the “large enterprise” approach of many business schools is just not appropriate to the world of most start-up and growth businesses, not just those businesses in software and high tech.

Failing is not seen as a “normal” approach in most business schools, but in Buckingham failing in your business is a normal part of the learning process, just as in the “real world”. How students react to failing is important, they must learn to pick themselves up, recognise what went wrong and have another go!

BSc Business Enterprise students and other entrepreneurial students learn as much outside lecture halls as within them, for example in mentoring sessions with entrepreneurs and other business people in the Buckingham Enterprise Hub and in the “open house” environment of the BBE Programme Director’s office.

If you are interested in finding out more about Buckingham’s innovative approach to education why not come to the Chartered Association of Business Schools Learning, Teaching & Student Experience (LTSE) Conference at Aston Business School on 26 & 27 April 2016. You will be able hear us talk about and question us on our 10 years’ experience running the World’s First Undergraduate Venture Creation Programme and meet some of our students and graduates.