In the early days of my career as an entrepreneurship educator I began to observe that my “Harvard MBA” perspective on entrepreneurship was not always well received by students, especially SHADs. It didn’t take me long to figure out that many young people had a negative view about business and especially about profit. My hypothesis was that this pervasive attitude undoubtedly arose from media coverage of shocking stories of the corrupt practices of unethical business executives. No wonder “profit” was a dirty word in their minds. No wonder many wanted to start not-for-profit ventures when I challenged them to create a business plan for a venture.
I gave much thought to how I might persuade them that the negative impression they got from the media was not representative of mainstream business. Fortunately, in the midst of my struggle to resolve this dilemma, I had the opportunity to attend an entrepreneurship workshop for Harvard Business School alumni which gave me a totally new perspective on how to teach entrepreneurship. Early in the workshop we were given a definition of entrepreneurship that had been coined by HBS Professor Dr. Howard Stevenson. His definition of entrepreneurship is “the relentless pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources currently controlled”.
When I reflected on this definition it became obvious to me that I was now empowered to communicate entrepreneurship in a very different way to young students. Entrepreneurship is not necessarily about starting a for-profit business. It is all about a mindset, a way of behaving, ie. being constantly on the outlook for important problems that need to be solved to make the world a better place, visioning solutions to these problems, building a high performance team that is skillful at executing and being effective in marshalling the resources you don’t control so that your solution can become a reality and potentially create global impact.
When I started communicating to students about entrepreneurship in this way, the impact was immediate. It was now legitimate for them to be an entrepreneur and to be entrepreneurial. It also opened their minds to consider how profit, earned in an ethical manner, can be a critical ingredient in attracting the capital necessary to turn a brilliant idea that solves an important problem into reality.
Thank you Dr. Stevenson for stimulating my epiphany in teaching entrepreneurship!