How well does a university education prepare one for the path of entrepreneurship?
That is the question researchers at the University of Guelph posed for a study weighing literature on the topic against interviews conducted with 15 U of G student entrepreneurs.
The study, co-authored by Dr. Davar Rezania, professor in the Department of Management at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, and PhD student Jonathan Parkes, was published in The Eurasia Proceedings of Educational and Social Sciences.
Research found a university education is an influential element of entrepreneurship and that there is potential in the relationship between the two. It also found that broadening the scope of entrepreneurial studies to include an interdisciplinary element inspires, supports and connects future entrepreneurs who see value in collaboration.
The student experience of a university education
“There is the education that you learn in class, but there is also the influence of the ecosystem of the university,” said Parkes. “People want to see the bridge between what the actual knowledge is and the way it can be put to use. What is the utility of the education people are gaining?”
Many of the students expressed a desire to interact with people outside of their specific disciplines, as the overall environment was more influential and inspirational than specific courses or lectures.
“The University of Guelph is really good at emphasizing contributions to the community,” Rezania said.
“These students are telling us the experience they have had with this focus on community has helped them develop entrepreneurial activity, which shows that education is much broader than attending classes and passing courses to get a degree,” he added.
Working with the John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise, researchers interviewed 13 undergraduate and two graduate students in various fields of study (commerce, engineering, science) whose entrepreneurial enterprises included app development, engineering design projects and decorative sustainable ecosystems sold as gifts.
Promotion of entrepreneurship could improve in university setting
Each student interviewee had undertaken The Hub Incubator Program at the Wood Centre, with ventures in various stages: some brand new, some in operation for a year or more and some ultimately unsuccessful.
Students discussed what compulsory courses or developmental activities they would recommend, what part of the educational experience they might choose to alter and what metaphor described the impact of education on their entrepreneurship.
Essentially, how do students experience their education and how does that help them to become entrepreneurs?
“Those interview questions derived from the literature that Jonathan had studied,” Rezania explained.
Interviewees also shared their wish to see entrepreneurship further promoted within university curriculum – regardless of the discipline – believing that had students been made more aware of it due to their acquired skills, they would have explored such opportunities.
“We interviewed all these people that had a tie to the University of Guelph and not just business-minded students,” said Parkes. “That’s what I think makes this paper really special.”
This study was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Dr. Davar Rezania