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Studying start-ups is the emerging core area

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As a business school professor, I am often asked if entrepreneurship can be taught. If the question means can you teach someone to be an entrepreneur, the answer is “probably not” because you certainly can’t teach the determination and spirit required. It takes a healthy dose of motivation, persistence, tolerance of ambiguity - and more - to be a successful entrepreneur. 

However, if the question is whether we can better equip business students who choose to follow an entrepreneurial path, then the answer is emphatically “yes”. Many of the challenges any entrepreneur will face are predictable, and there are frameworks and tools to help people avoid at least some of the bumps, bruises and scars.  

Entrepreneurship as a business discipline is hardly a new phenomenon, but studying start-ups and how to finance and grow them is an emerging micro-trend in the best MBA programmes. Plenty of skills can be learned - from discovering and assessing opportunities to business planning, achieving growth and harvesting value. These are the basics of entrepreneurship and they stand to benefit any MBA. 

Finding the right opportunity is merely the first step. Sadly, though, the rate of failure for entrepreneurs is incredibly high, despite the optimism articulated in their business plans. One reason is that the vast majority of such plans are written too soon, long before there is enough evidence to decide on the best way forward. Most first-draft business plans don’t deliver. In fact, they are a waste of time and effort and, typically, are based on a pile of untested assumptions. For new businesses and start-ups, the most common mistake is to assume too much, test too little, and fail to learn from the marketplace and the real-world experience of others. As this has become clearer in recent years, the focus of MBA programmes in teaching entrepreneurship has moved from highly speculative business planning to rigorous opportunity assessment.

For example, there are now tools like a seven domains analysis (see The New Business Road Test and its accompanying app for Apple and Android devices), which enable aspiring entrepreneurs to scrutinise their opportunities systematically. By properly examining the feasibility of their idea before the launch, they greatly improve the odds of survival. As a result, they don’t waste months or years of their lives – not to mention their money or other people’s investment – pursuing a fundamentally flawed idea. The seven domains framework is just one of a growing number with which to address the sometimes daunting intellectual challenges and decision which an entrepreneur must make. 

At London Business School, we bring these skills into the heart of the curriculum with our core module on discovering entrepreneurial opportunities. Also, students involved in our entrepreneurship incubator programme have access to the school’s facilities and are provided with an initial cash injection to support new business ventures.

The incubator programme offers access to a network of alumni and external entrepreneurs who act as mentors, offering advice and support in the early stages. In addition, our “entrepreneur mentors in residence programme” provides opportunities for students and alumni to interact with serial entrepreneurs who serve as senior advisers and mentors.

Furthermore, we now offer an Entrepreneurship Summer School, which is open to non-students and members of the public. This assesses the viability of planned businesses under the guidance of more than fifty experienced mentors and investors. The summer school’s began in 2001 and, since then, its graduates have successfully started 200-plus businesses, created more than 1,200 jobs, and raised more than £470 million in equity from angel investors, venture capitalists, grants and other sources.

We are continuing to invest time, money and resources to support this growing trend. Learning about start-ups, the steps to take, and whether it suits your personality and ambitions is a worthwhile endeavour regardless of your intended career path. Studying the entrepreneurial process will continue to increase in popularity, and it certainly helps LBS alumni make their mark anywhere in the world.

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