Small Business

Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?


To find out, businessman and academic Richard Goossen rounded up a group of experts

Richard Goossen wears many hats. Over the past 20 years, Goossen, a lawyer, businessman, and academic, has founded startups, acted as strategic adviser to high-growth companies, written three books, and spoken extensively on the subject of entrepreneurship. Now the CEO of M&A Capital Corp. and a professor of entrepreneurship at Trinity Western University in Vancouver, B.C., Goossen recently decided to tackle the question:Can entrepreneurship be taught? (Businessweek.com, 10/30/06)

"If I go into any social setting, people always wonder how can you teach entrepreneurship," says Goossen. So he decided to explore the topic further. He rounded up a group of entrepreneurship experts ranging from Peter Drucker (Businessweek.com, 11/28/05) to Rita Gunther McGrath to Karl Vesper. He culled their insights, broke them down, and published the results in his most recent book, Entrepreneurial Excellence: Profit From the Best Ideas of the Experts (Career Press; 2007). "My motivation was to talk to the top researchers and instructors in the world who teach something that a lot of people think can't be taught," he says.

Goossen came to the conclusion that while there are several elements that can be taught to enhance the knowledge and success of entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship is something one can learn only by doing. "With law or accounting,you can teach a set of principles that a student can master to become a competent practitioner," he says. "But teaching entrepreneurship is tough. In a class it's hard to predict who will do well and who will not."

As a result of his research, Goossen has come up with three entrepreneurial elements that can be taught. The first is general business knowledge—what he calls "the nuts and bolts of management principles and strategic thinking." Next, there are general entrepreneurial principles. "You can lean from what other people have done and where they made mistakes," he says. Finally, he says one can learn to be alert to opportunities in certain fields in a general sense.

What can't be taught, on the other hand, is what Goossen calls "venture specific opportunity principles." By that he means the ability to understand and see specific niches in a market and recognize whether it will be successful or not. "You can't teach someone how to know what will work and what won't," says Goossen. "You can't even duplicate the set of dynamics of a past success."

For a primer on ideas that can be learned from Goossen's roster of experts, flip through this slide show.

Perman is a staff writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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