On Being Taught Entrepreneurship
Two weeks before I started at Babson, I had a long conversation with my mom about whether or not entrepreneurship could be taught. There was a great deal of back-and-forth, but all we came up with was, whether or not you can teach entrepreneurship, you can at least sell entrepreneurship education.
When I arrived, starry-eyed and excited to learn the answer to our question, I was keenly aware of what I did or didnâ€™t learn. And one and a half semesters in I can tell you, with some reasonable amount of confidence, that you canâ€™t teach entrepreneurship. Or rather, you canâ€™t be taught entrepreneurship. Well, at the very least, Babson hasnâ€™t taught us entrepreneurship. Yet.
Okay, pump the brakes. This is a broad and complex topic, and it’s likely that my classmates, not to mention alumni and future applicants, just had a knee-jerk, â€śWTFâ€ť reaction. So let me preface everything else I have to say with this: itâ€™s my opinion that entrepreneurship is not, like what some people will tell you, an inborn quality you either have or donâ€™t have. But neither is it something you can be taught in a few months of class. Itâ€™s a hybrid of the two. I would posit that being an entrepreneur is something you choose to do, based on what you can reasonably expect from yourself. Let me illustrate.
I visited Babson college in the winter of 2002, and knew immediately it was a place I had to be. More than that, though, it was the first time I put any thought toward the word â€śentrepreneur.â€ť Hell, it was the first time I could spell entrepreneur.
When I graduated from college, I started my own company. Those few days at Babson had sparked something in me that grew for years; when it came time to launch, I did it blindly. While a mentor coached me on what it meant to be an entrepreneur (â€śwake up every day and create value for your clientsâ€ť), I was mostly focused on creating exciting technology and learning about how to make a sale.
Was I solving a real pain point someone has? I have no idea. Maybe. What I was really doing was arrogantly thinking I could start a company and build it from nothing, with no experience and no idea how to do it. And if my idea was novel and amazing, I might have lucked out and wound up wildly successful. But it wasn’t, and I didn’t.
Iâ€™ve maintained since then that nothing I did makes me an entrepreneur. Does that sound like an entrepreneur? After a semester and a half here, to my ears, it doesn’t. And this is where it becomes a question of degree.
What I did makes me risk tolerant. At 21, I wasnâ€™t afraid to forgo a salary (largely because I didnâ€™t know what one was) and choose to start my own business instead. And thatâ€™s the part you largely canâ€™t control: youâ€™re either risk averse or risk tolerant, and if youâ€™re risk averse, itâ€™ll be difficult for you to be an entrepreneur.
Not that thatâ€™s something to be ashamed of! All it really means is that youâ€™re a responsible person. My wife is risk averse (though sheâ€™s always been supportive of my own irresponsible decisions), and without her fiscal maturity, we probably wouldnâ€™t stay afloat. But risk tolerance is definitely part of the equation. Part.
The other part of being an entrepreneur is what you learn at Babson: itâ€™s developing an idea based on real, market-based information, building it, testing it, relentlessly rethinking it, and scaling it. The curriculum here is infused with this stuff, and thatâ€™s what you stand to learn with a Babson MBA.
It’s a combination of risk tolerance and skill that makes a person an entrepreneur. If you lack the former, you’re a great manager; if you lack the latter, you’re just reckless.
Many of my classmates have expressed unhappiness because they donâ€™t think theyâ€™re entrepreneurs after a semester at school. And thatâ€™s because theyâ€™re not. If youâ€™re not willing to take that risk head-on, youâ€™re going to be sorely disappointed, because nothing Babson teaches you will make you an entrepreneur. They give you the tools to create an enterprise from scratch; the rest is on you.