“Entrepreneurship is like happiness: everyone is searching for it but everybody has their own definition of what it is”. Margherita Bagacilupo, a qualitative researcher and policy analyst at the Joint Research Centre, once used that analogy to explain the relevance of the EntreComp Framework, an EU publication she co-authored defining what entrepreneurship as a competence is.
The EntreComp Framework is a reference for anyone interested in promoting entrepreneurship education, in both formal and informal contexts. As a project interested in promoting social innovation education, NEMESIS has used EntreComp – among others – as a starting point to reflect on the differences and similarities between entrepreneurship and social innovation education.
Q. First things first: innovation or entrepreneurship?
A: You need to be entrepreneurial for innovation to become real, but you don’t need to be innovative to be an entrepreneur. Being entrepreneurial is about creating value for others. That value can be commercial, cultural or social, but it does not necessarily have to be new. If I start a pizza parlour I’ll be an entrepreneur using all of the competences required to set up a business, but there is not necessarily anything innovative involved.
Entrepreneurship is a broader concept that includes value creation, but isn’t limited to new values in the same way that innovation is. So in our perspective, innovation is a potential outcome of being entrepreneurial, such as setting up a business or becoming a civil society activist, but not the other way round. In the end it is a matter of definition, and definitions can be discussed forever.
Q: You just mentioned social activists, but when thinking about entrepreneurship most people think of businessmen (or woman). What can entrepreneurial education offer to those interested in social innovation approaches?
A: Entrepreneurship education is a label to address this culture of social and economic value creation. It might not be the best term because , as you said, when thinking of entrepreneurship – and more so in certain countries – there is an automatic connection to business people (generally businessmen), and this is not what value creation is about.
We could call it changemaking skills, life skills, value creation skills, social innovation skills or even innovation skills. However, no label would ever be perfect. It’s important that we acknowledge this, so when looking at the definition of value creation people can clearly see that there is room for social innovation.
Actually, there is no difference in the competencies that you need to create social, cultural, or economic value. It is also up to you to blend them: you need financial and economic literacy to create economic value so your social endeavour can have an impact. If not you are a dreamer, not a changemaker.
“First thing for schools to support their students
in becoming entrepreneurial is to open themselves up
to the external environment”
Q: Is it possible to learn how to be innovative?
A: Definitely yes. Becoming an innovator is a progression in being able to face ever greater challenges, and this progression can be trained if not taught. Becoming entrepreneurial is something that you learn by doing. You can be taught about entrepreneurship if you do a masters in business administration: you will be taught content about what it means to be an entrepreneur, shown successful and unsuccessful case studies displaying entrepreneurial values… but the focus here is not on learning about entrepreneurship but learning to be entrepreneurial. Here, to be is to do.
Q: You’ve mentioned the EntreComp framework a couple of times already. It defines entrepreneurship competencies but how can schools apply them?
A: It depends a lot on the context. We shouldn’t think about school in isolation: schools are nested in a community, in a local environment. So the first thing for schools to support their students in becoming entrepreneurial is to open themselves up to the external environment, wherever or whatever that may be.
In our definition of entrepreneurship, value creation means creating values for others. This means, basically, that pupils are not asked to do homework to please the teacher or to comply with a set of predefined answers that will make the teacher and parents happy purely because the student will get good marks. Rather, it is about the value that this student or group of students can create for someone outside of the classroom. This could be a community external to the school, or a future community like next year’s students.
If I had to choose one piece of advice to give schools wanting to implement entrepreneurship competencies, it would be to reflect on this idea of value creation for others. Who are the others? It’s not the teacher, it’s not the classmates, it’s somebody external. Providing opportunities to create value for others enables the acquisition of all of the competencies defined in the framework.
“The value of diversity has to be
embedded in the development of the competencies”
Q: Women are underrepresented in entrepreneurship. The gap is slightly smaller in social entrepreneurship, but it’s still there. How can we tackle this in entrepreneurship education?
A: I think there are two main considerations. The first is that the value of diversity – and that goes beyond gender – has to be embedded in the development of the competencies. As a teacher, you could facilitate more diverse groups by separating groups of friends – friends tend to be alike – and regrouping students in terms of gender, or any other diversity criteria you deem relevant. The key here is regarding diversity as an element that enriches the value creation process.
The second is that it is important to be conscious of all of the stereotypes associated with ‘who does what’ in society. Who creates value? And which value is the most important? So changing the selection of role models can be an important step. Opening the classroom to the local environment can be a practical way to provide context for value creation. If you invite entrepreneurs into the classroom – something very much encouraged at European policy level – put thought into who you choose.
If you only pick white male entrepreneurs working in technology, you are creating a certain understanding of what entrepreneurship is and who the role models are. However, if you introduce your students to a diverse range of entrepreneurs including women, migrants, social activists and members of different types of groups – so not only companies but associations and charities too – then you are providing them with a broader understanding of what value creation is and which role models they can follow to guide their career pathways (‘career’ here intended as a broad term, not only in the professional sense but as development).
Q: Another underrepresented group are those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Any strategies on how to include them?
A: One of the results of the EU project Youth Start is that entrepreneurial education is engaging students in the learning process. So it can help those who come from more disadvantaged backgrounds and are at a greater risk of dropping out of school to find more sense in education. It helps them to understand that creating value is not about the textbooks that may not resonate with them, but about their own capacity to make a difference in whatever context they find themselves.
When opening the classrooms to entrepreneurs, instead of choosing the usual white, male, suit-wearing entrepreneur from the business sector, go for other examples. Again, it is about looking at things in a broader way, about diversity in all senses. Incorporation of diversity is key. Also, you might want to engage in co-designing activities with the local community: enlisting them as part of the process together with the students and bringing them into the loop.