Demystifying entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education
Entrepreneurship is a fuzzy concept. It is a concept that we at UIIN use almost daily and one we have been working with for years.
When I first joined UIIN, entrepreneurship meant something very different to me. It took time to shift my understanding from viewing entrepreneurship solely as business creation, to recognising it as a fundamental competence, relevant in all areas of life, that we would all benefit from cultivating.
The word “entrepreneurship” is a rapidly evolving and organic term, and it can mean different things for different people. When confusion arises due to differing understandings of a word, this is called semantic distortion. Despite this confusion, there is, however, a broad consensus that both entrepreneurship and innovation play pivotal roles in the development and well-being of society.
To see beyond the distortion and demystify entrepreneurship and, with that, entrepreneurship education, let’s dive into the evolution of the concept.
An evolution of entrepreneurship as a term
The term “entrepreneur” has its origins in the fusion of two Latin words: “entre” which means to venture or embark, and “prendes”, meaning the act of seizing, comprehending, or capturing. The 13th-century French verb “entrepredre” combines these terms and means “to do something” or “to undertake”. The word entrepreneur also bears a phonetic resemblance to the Sanskrit word “anthraprena” which translates to “self-motivation”.
By the 16th century, entrepreneurship had become associated with business creation and profit – an association which directly informs the common understanding of entrepreneurship today. Investopedia defines it thusly:
When we see entrepreneurship as a core set of competences to be developed, then we can also see universities as uniquely positioned to nurture these competencies. However, the suspicion towards the term of entrepreneurship hinders the uptake of entrepreneurial pedagogies across disciplines.
Nowadays, although the term entrepreneurship is very common in both academic and grey literature, it lacks a precise definition. Entrepreneurship takes on different meanings in different disciplines, whether it is employed by economists, management professionals, lawyers, psychologists etc. Furthermore, understandings of the term differ across ages of the population; whilst the common synonyms for entrepreneurship – creativity, innovation, seizing opportunities – tend to be more associated with youth than those of older age, older people tend to have a broader definition of entrepreneurship that encompasses generally social and educational activities and pursuits.
Hence, we find ourselves confronted with several divergent schools of thought. On the one hand, there is the more prevalent perspective of those who regard entrepreneurship primarily as synonymous with business creation. On the other, there are those who view entrepreneurship from a wider lens, as a core competence necessary for personal growth, active engagement in society and initiating various types of ventures, be it cultural, social, or commercial.
Problems with the term “entrepreneurship”
The word entrepreneurship leaves a funny taste in some people’s mouths. Academics are often suspicious of the term and of their peers who are engaging in academic entrepreneurship; they associate it with commercial endeavours and even report that it indicates a lack of dedication to science, or focus.
The term also comes with a gender bias; men are three times more likely to own a business with employees than women. Furthermore, women are less likely than men to join entrepreneurship education programmes. However, when framed as “social” or “sustainable” entrepreneurship and “impact”, the enrolment of women in these programmes tends to increase.
From concept to competency
In 2006, the European Commission (EC) identified a “sense of initiative and entrepreneurship” as one of the 8 core competencies required for a flourishing knowledge-based society.
In contrast to colloquial definitions, the EC sees entrepreneurship as a broader concept of “acting upon opportunities and ideas and transforming them into value for others, which can be financial, cultural, or social”. The EC notes that the action of transforming opportunities into shared benefits is just as applicable in the spheres of advancing one’s professional journey, supporting a neighbourhood project or launching a new social enterprise.
Fostering the entrepreneurial capabilities of both people and organisations in Europe has now been a fundamental policy goal of the European Union and its Member States for years. To promote entrepreneurship as a key competence for all citizens, with a focus on fostering entrepreneurial mindsets and skills, the EC developed a framework called “EntreComp”, short for “Entrepreneurship Competence”. The framework was introduced to address the need for a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of entrepreneurship in today’s rapidly changing world as well as operationalising and streamlining entrepreneurship as a competence.
There are various other frameworks that have been developed to facilitate the development of entrepreneurship as a competence. The Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship, for example, also shares the same definition of entrepreneurship as the EC, and created the ‘Entrepreneurship Education: Progression Model’. Furthermore, Advance HE define entrepreneurship as ‘the application of enterprise behaviours, attributes and competencies into the creation of cultural, social or economic value. This can, but does not exclusively, lead to venture creation’.
When we see entrepreneurship as a core set of competences to be developed, then we can also see universities as uniquely positioned to nurture these competencies. However, the suspicion towards the term of entrepreneurship hinders the uptake of entrepreneurial pedagogies across disciplines. Historically, entrepreneurship education (EE) has mostly been confined to business schools or business-related HE curricular. However the importance of EE is gaining momentum across disciplines.
In response to the effects of globalisation and significant societal, economic, and labour market changes, universities worldwide have recognized the benefit of incorporating entrepreneurship and innovation into their curricula. By fostering an entrepreneurial mindset through the integration of entrepreneurial components in non-business courses, students can enhance their problem-solving, adaptability, creativity, communication, self-efficacy, alignment with contemporary workforce demands, and potential for societal impact. Entrepreneurship Education aligns with the broader concept of “general education”, equipping students to identify opportunities and create value in diverse settings and navigating the challenges of an increasingly globalised and unpredictable world.
Semantic distortion around the word “entrepreneurship” is a prevalent issue that can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. The consequences of such ambiguity are far-reaching, affecting education, policymaking, and societal perceptions. It can hinder effective entrepreneurship education, as educators may teach different concepts or avoid the concept altogether. The colloquial and gender-biased associations with entrepreneurship also contribute to exclusivity, potentially discouraging participation from underrepresented groups, and obscuring the universal benefit that can be reached through developing an entrepreneurial mindset. We see these issues pop up time and time again across our work at UIIN in consultancy, European projects and conference discussions.
What should we do? Should we alter the semantics of entrepreneurship programmes to highlight outcome words such as “impact” and “sustainability”, making them more attractive to women and other underrepresented groups? Should we continue to reclaim entrepreneurship from its narrow use towards the definition of entrepreneurship that the EC is striving for? Addressing these semantic distortions and striving for a more universally understood definition of entrepreneurship is vital to foster inclusivity, clarity, and effectiveness in the field.
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Ready for more?
You can listen now to Jenny Mullery discuss how we can foster the entrepreneurial mindset and student entrepreneurship in higher education in our episode Fostering the entrepreneurial mindset and student entrepreneurship in higher education, or you can read about how universities should prioritize interdisciplinary approaches, experiential learning, and technology-driven solutions, while also bridging the gap between the skills they offer and employers’ needs, head now to our article Bridging the Gap: Reimagining Higher Education for 21st Century Skills.
Tasha Day (author) is a Project officer at UIIN, where she undertakes research activities and creates content on a wide variety of topics including entrepreneurship education, sustainability and research valorisation.