What's next in Entrepreneurship Education? Charting the course for effective policies and necessary research

By Sara Garcia Arteagoitia and Anna Segura on Tuesday, 10 May 2022.

Entrepreneurship is an amazing asset. It accelerates economic growth, promotes innovation, helps advance research and industrial development, develops existing enterprises, and can promote social change. And the good news is that it is not innate; it is an asset that can be taught and encouraged through exposure. The challenge thus lies in finding the most effective way and moment to do so. 

Policymakers continuously grapple with questions about what works in entrepreneurship education, regarding programme design, content, channels, and target groups, among others. They design programmes aimed at spreading an entrepreneurial spirit among potential entrepreneurs, increasing their preferences for a career in entrepreneurship, and providing them with the necessary skills and knowledge to be able to be innovative and start successful businesses. And they need evidence to help them make those design decisions and build successful programmes.

We want to help, so we are charting a clear course: highlighting what we know about what works through our evidence portal and detailing what research we are still missing below. We want policymakers to have a clear and full picture of the things they should care about when designing and implementing programmes in Entrepreneurship Education - and academics to have new policy-relevant research avenues.

IGL Evidence Bites: A space for policymakers ready to improve their EE programs

In an effort to help increase the effectiveness of entrepreneurship education and business support programmes, we have developed Evidence Bites, funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The portal contains a series of evidence summaries that make it easier for policymakers and business support providers to access and act on the most rigorous evidence on how to effectively support entrepreneurs and businesses. 

The evidence summaries are organised using what we have named bitesize questions: specific questions that our work with stakeholders shows policymakers face when designing and rethinking support schemes. Along with the summaries, the portal includes actionable insights to take into account in the form of ‘Ideas worth trying’ and ‘Things to avoid’.

The section on Entrepreneurship Education summarises the existing experimental evidence on the topic. It provides an overview of what we know regarding design choices such as the inclusion of role models, the type of skills that are most effective at each developmental stage, or the role of diversity in training. Among the concrete conclusions from the research, we can learn that entrepreneurship education courses need to be tailored to the participants’ developmental stage and adjusted to the barriers to entrepreneurship they might face. Also, the evidence shows that the inclusion of role models improves programmes, but that the choice of the role model is key.

Make sure to visit the portal next time you are (re)designing a programme or to find ideas worth trying to improve your entrepreneurship education schemes!

Furthermore, our work has made us aware of current studies that will soon expand the frontier of knowledge in entrepreneurship education - and will be added to our portal as the results become available. A study in Colombia is currently looking at the effects of music education on entrepreneurship. In Saudi Arabia, the function of role models and mentorship is being explored further. Additionally, there are two studies funded by our IGL Grants Programme working on determinants of entrepreneurship. There is one in Italy that is looking at the impact of entrepreneurial communication and educational support through universities’ knowledge transfer offices on an entrepreneurial mindset. The other one is analysing the effect of training in negotiations and scientific thinking on STEM-based career choices and opportunity-led entrepreneurship in Ecuador.

What’s next for research: Four randomised controlled trials we would like to see 

As we have reviewed the literature through the lens of policymakers’ needs for effective programme design, we have discovered some especially interesting and relevant frontiers of knowledge in need of exploration. Here are the four that stood out the most and would make the highest impact in our understanding of what works for Entrepreneurship Education:

Networking module as part of entrepreneurship education for university students

The existing research suggests that lack of business knowledge might not be the main constraint to entrepreneurship for highly educated young people. As such, policies to promote entrepreneurship among high-skilled youths might need to tackle other barriers, like access to an entrepreneurial ecosystem network. So complementing business training with networking training could prove helpful to not only provide students with entrepreneurial spirit and business knowledge but the skills to access and talk to the right people.

Entrepreneurship education programme for people beyond formal education

Most entrepreneurship education programmes focus on school-age children or young adults in higher education. But entrepreneurship is not only an option for those coming out of formal education. People at all stages of their career might decide to become entrepreneurs and apply their skills to build enterprises. Entrepreneurship education that complements their pre-existing knowledge could open new avenues for them to start their own ventures and realise opportunities that they identify and develop. Thus, we would like to see rigorous work analysing what works, when and for whom.

Exploring the links between efforts to create future innovators with those to foster tomorrow’s entrepreneurs

Alongside entrepreneurship, there are concerns that economies including the US are missing out on millions of potential innovators and inventors due to a range of inequalities and lack of opportunities. As also goes for entrepreneurship, the answer may lay in interventions that can provide early exposure, knowledge and networks. We would therefore like to see evaluations of programmes that combine training to innovate - identifying new ideas and developing solutions that work - and becoming entrepreneurial - realising the associated business opportunities. 

Designing and testing evidence-based programmes across different countries 

Using robust scientific evidence to inform the design of programmes will make them more effective - and testing them will let us know that they worked. Such was the case for the entrepreneurship mini-MBA that secondary school students received in Uganda. The content and the skills developed in this programme were those that, according to scientific evidence, highly correlate with transformational entrepreneurship. In turn, the programme was effective at fostering hard and soft skills in the short-term, and self-employment in the long-term. Thus we would like to see more programmes being designed according to existing evidence across different countries and their impact rigorously measured to learn more about what works best in different contexts.

The evidence lessons: Tips for researchers

In our review of the existing literature we have observed likely pitfalls and potential tweaks to research that could greatly benefit our understanding of what works and what the different trade-offs are with regards to entrepreneurship education. 

Look not only at income from entrepreneurship but also at wage-employment

The evidence suggests that there is a substitution effect between entrepreneurial earnings and wage-employment. Therefore both measures need to be outcome variables when investigating the overall effect in employment.

Beware of crowding-out effects; look at educational outcomes 

There is some evidence suggesting that in settings where the school system is poor and the target population are school students, entrepreneurship education can lead to students investing less in their own formal education. This negative side-effect should be accounted for in the research and tested in other settings. 

Look at non-profit entrepreneurial activity 

The evidence suggests that entrepreneurship education can also make participants more likely to engage with entrepreneurial projects that are not necessarily businesses or for profit. It is therefore important to account for these outcomes when measuring the effectiveness of entrepreneurship education.

Keep your observation periods wide

As the ultimate goal of entrepreneurship education is career-oriented, it is important that the long-term effects of entrepreneurship education are accounted for. A focus on the short-term outcomes might lead to overestimation of the effects of these trainings, as the evidence suggests that some effects fade over time if not reinforced.

I am a researcher/practitioner working in entrepreneurship education and I have an interest in testing new ideas and contributing to building rigorous evidence on how to make entrepreneurship education more impactful. What should I do?

Get in touch! Our work at IGL is focused on building bridges between policymakers and research(ers). We help develop new ideas, test them, and amplify existing evidence. So, contact us if you are:

(1) working on projects related to Entrepreneurship Education and would like to share your work with the right policymakers, or 

(2) would like to explore the viability of ideas you are considering, or 

(3) would like to collaborate on making them happen

We can support you! Email innovationgrowthlab@nesta.org.uk and we’ll go from there.