Entrepreneurs, their associated startups and the subsequent growth of their companies have a vital impact on the health of our economy. In Canada, young adults have demonstrated a growing interest in entrepreneurship.
Students from all faculties can and should benefit from entrepreneurial skills, classically defined as learning to create value in environments of uncertainty, and with limited resources. Doing so will ensure our next generations are able to meet the challenges of tomorrow. This has never been truer than now, as we navigate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. How the pandemic will interact with the changing landscape of work remains to be seen.
We set out to uncover the number and type of entrepreneurship courses available, the opportunities for students to learn this valuable skill set outside the classroom and the current practices in supporting student startups. We found some encouraging information and opportunities for improvement.
Surprisingly, we uncovered an average of 22 entrepreneurship-focused courses per institution. Examined together, these courses spanned many faculties (including engineering, science, arts and social science) and levels of study, from undergraduate to doctoral and post-doctoral studies.
Learning to create value in environments of uncertainty with limited resources is something that can help all young people build their futures, especially amid the uncertainty of COVID-19.
Beyond business schools
Entrepreneurship is no longer strictly the domain of business schools. Many faculties are recognizing the importance of this skill set for students, and on average, 3.5 faculties per university teach entrepreneurship.
Our review found positive indicators related to the number and type of entrepreneurship courses available.
Most have moved beyond business planning courses as a default entrepreneurship offering. There are now courses that focus on the early stages of new ventures such as creativity, generating ideas, identifying opportunities and how to validate early ideas by talking to customers.
New ventures, social entrepreneurship
Universities are finding ways to customize traditional “big business” topics for brand-new ventures. Such approaches recognize that new ventures launched by students aren’t beginning with the money, staff or resources that larger firms have, in courses about marketing for entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship law and financing new ventures.
Additionally, courses that have not been traditionally taught outside of Engineering programs are emerging in other faculties. Examples include courses about design thinking and new product development, software venturing, making a prototype and others.
The course titles most often added in the last few years include those associated with social entrepreneurship — startups that seek to help solve societal problems and aren’t focused on just making a profit. Students from all faculties are looking to solve real-world problems with unique business models.
Learning by doing
Providing students with experiential learning opportunities allows for experimentation, application of skills and valuable networking. These learning-by-doing activities have been found to trigger the development of many important entrepreneurial competencies.
Other encouraging non-credit learning programs exist, such as opportunities for students to hear from external entrepreneurs. Our data showed that between summer 2020 and summer 2021, co-op work terms where students could work in their own start-ups gained popularity. In 2020, only 43 per cent of schools we reviewed offered this kind of work placement, but in 2021, 70 per cent of schools are doing so.
The prevalence of support for student start-ups is encouraging. Each year a growing number of students start their ventures while also pursuing their academic studies.