Introducing students to entrepreneurship comes with barriers to entry, but a supportive network in a business environment can provide the boost students need.
by Ryan Williams
Dr. Alexandrina Pauceanu
Student entrepreneurs are a hugely valuable asset with wonderfully creative solutions to the world’s needs. One only has to look at Microsoft’s Bill Gates or Matt Mullenweg & Mike Little of WordPress fame to understand the potential of successful student entrepreneurs.
The hard reality is that the world of business can have extremely high barriers to entry. These barriers can come in many forms, including perceived personal efficacy, interpersonal inexperience, and real-world blockages. This does not mean entrepreneurship is inaccessible to students, however. With the right support from students’ schools, these barriers to entry can be turned into scalable hurdles, and then into tiny bumps in the road.
We spoke to Dr. Alexandrina Pauceanu, Associate Professor of Management at Geneva Business School and author of many books and papers on entrepreneurship, to get her views on this subject.
Lack of knowledge about how to start the entrepreneurial process
Lack of financing resources and fundraising knowledge
Underdeveloped money management skills
Poor systematic support
Limited belief in themselves
None of these factors should come as a major surprise. Primary and secondary education provide an extremely limited education on entrepreneurship. It is not until higher education, when students attend a business school or a public or private university, that they first learn about business development or entrepreneurship formally. Therefore, this situation wherein students don’t know how to start a business is an obvious result of a lack of focus on entrepreneurship in education.
A lack of business connections is an inevitable factor that faces young student entrepreneurs. Until this point in their lives, the network of students is generally restricted to family and friends their own age. Thus, the network of connections in their network that could be leveraged to help with business development needs to start from scratch.
Starting a business while a student is also particularly difficult because of time constraints. Participating in higher education is a full-time responsibility in itself, and if one considers the number of students that also need to pick up a job to fund themselves while studying, there is often too little time to start a business. This division among students of needing a job while studying is an influence of familial wealth and is particularly challenging for many students to overcome.
Barriers can also come in the form of other people’s perceptions and treatment of potential student entrepreneurs. For one, many investors and customers may be reluctant to do business with someone so young. Inexperience in business may be judged as a higher likelihood of providing an unprofessional service, and so more established businesses are selected instead.
There are a litany of other barriers that affect specific demographics of people. In certain cultures, the lack of family support for female students and budding entrepreneurs is also a major hindering factor. In these situations, schools may engage with families in order to get approval and explain the process of founding their own business. Women are a minority among entrepreneurs worldwide and there are a lot of factors leading to this.
How can schools encourage entrepreneurship in students?
This list of barriers to entry for entrepreneurs may seem immense, and even overwhelming. If one also considers the small chance that any business venture is successful in the long term – even for experienced and established entrepreneurs – it’s easy to see why student entrepreneurship remains uncommon.
This is where business schools shine. Their very purpose is to mold ambitious students into confident and well-prepared entrepreneurs. A high-quality business school provides the tools to overcome these barriers.
Entrepreneurialknowledge is the easiest for schools to provide. True business education will cover nearly all essential elements of a functioning business: from the early fundamentals of management, economics, and business development to business law, marketing strategy, PR, logistics, and more. Learning the theory in class, then applying it in case study situations, and then bringing it to internship opportunities is the best way for students to ingrain this knowledge.
Financing & money management skills
While no school can provide all its students with the financing necessary to keep a new business afloat, the education provided at school should cover the fundraising process and finance management skills. It is tremendously easier to start a business for those who already have access to liquid capital. But, for those without this initial advantage, the barrier is not insurmountable. Success in this case requires the meeting of well-developed business skills and a high-potential business idea.
Systematic support for students is also essential. This support should be varied enough to fulfill as many needs of students as possible. For business schools, this should include:
bureaucratic support, to handle issues like visas, taxes, and documents necessary to officially start a business.
practical support, as needed to overcome many industry-specific challenges that can’t be covered in a general syllabus.
soft skill development, including confidence, diplomacy, and others.
emotional support, without which a potential entrepreneur may struggle to maintain positive mental health.
Business connections, and students’ lack thereof, are solved simply. A school that can sustainably connect its students with a network of active professionals will provide a huge advantage to its students.
Employing active professionals as faculty, organizing networking events, and connecting with businesses to provide internships and job opportunities are just some ways that schools can help develop their students’ professional networks.
Entrepreneurial confidence is another on the list that a top business school shouldn’t struggle to imbue in its students. How does a school make its students feel confident in their entrepreneurial ability?
providing a thorough and up-to-date business education
putting students in groups to work on projects collaboratively
work on real-world case studies
connecting them with business professionals
The more exposure that students receive to the business world – and the more this exposure is realistic and contemporary – the better prepared they will be upon transitioning from education to industry, and the more confident they will feel in their own skills.
Handling time constraints
Time constraints are considerably more difficult for a school to solve for its students. The main support that schools can provide to students is to structure the syllabus with constraints in mind.
For example, an MBA is a program aimed at students with some years of working experience, who wish to accelerate their careers or learn a deeper understanding of business to better develop their own business. By offering classes outside of normal working hours, students can study while also developing and growing their businesses.
Navigating public perceptions and behavior
One barrier which is entirely out of schools’ control is the public perception and treatment of student entrepreneurs. These, along with other sociological factors like gender- and race-based discrimination, have to be navigated by the student entrepreneurs themselves.
This doesn’t mean the school has no place in aiding the students here. By educating the student to the point where their knowledge and skills are undeniable, and by connecting students with businesses that reject such outdated and bigoted stances, students of all demographics can each have a real chance of success.
Can young entrepreneurs compete with older competitors?
The world is changing extremely quickly. Customers are adapting their purchasing behavior as they experience the pandemic situation and the ongoing cost of living crisis. This trend is set to continue. Businesses and entrepreneurs must keep these changes in mind when deciding to launch or transform their services and products.
This is where young entrepreneurs have their chance to succeed. In comparison with traditional businesses, student entrepreneurs have a particular edge in this current business environment. They bring motivation, digital competency, a willingness to learn and test new things, fresh ideas and perspectives, and a strong desire to change the world.
We are living in a changing world at a rapid speed; young entrepreneurs are ready for this and are flexible enough to adapt to the fast technological trends.
Dr. Alexandrina Pauceanu, Associate Professor of Management
A current trend in entrepreneurial education is to promote students graduating with an established startup or a validated business plan. This is an ambitious goal, particularly for students. So, in order to achieve this, business schools assign mentors, invite existing entrepreneurs for in-house programs, and engage with financing or SME authorities for collaborations in assisting the business with potential.
Entrepreneurship is never easy. The good news is that students themselves have a lot of advantages in the world of entrepreneurship. And while their barriers to entry can seem unscalable, the multifaceted support of a high-quality business school can be enough to get students over any barriers they face and get them accelerating towards sustainable success.