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Can you learn to be an entrepreneur?

Can you learn to be an entrepreneur?

The word ‘entrepreneur’ comes from the French verb entreprendre, to undertake. It denotes a person who sets things in motion – a prime mover, rather than someone who takes instructions from others in order to make a living. It could be said to define a character trait rather than a job title. If so, how can entrepreneurship be taught?

Economic change, technological innovation and the demise of the ‘job for life’ have led to a rise in demand for entrepreneurship courses that offer the know-how to navigate the early stages of running a business. The basic drive to succeed probably can’t be taught, but it doesn’t hurt to have a good rummage through a toolbox of strategies and techniques drawn from the experiences of others. Entrepreneurship courses are more about risk management than anything else. They certainly do not guarantee success but they do offer access to a hive mind of kindred spirits where it’s possible to learn from the mistakes of others rather than your own.

There are full MSc courses in entrepreneurship. But some go-getters in whom the flame burns brightly will not want to spend that much time studying when they could be doing. A shorter but still thorough option is the Wharton School’s 5-course series on entrepreneurship. Wharton is the business school of the University of Pennsylvania and ranks number 4 in USA business schools at the time of writing, bettered only by Harvard, Stanford and Booth.

You can take the 5 courses in any order you like, but the suggested order is:

  1. Developing the Opportunity. Introduction to the foundational concepts of entrepreneurship, including ‘who fits the profile of an entrepreneur?’ It sounds sensible to do this first, to avoid wasted time if some are not made of the right stuff.
  2. Launching your Start-Up. First steps once a promising idea has been identified. Concepts include minimum viable product, the art of the pitch and when to quit your day job. Sweaty palms time.
  3. Growth Strategies. How to scale things up without over-reaching too soon. How to forecast demand and acquire customers.
  4. Financing and Profitability. How to approach business angels and venture capitalists, but also how to grow organically, crowdfunding, and other options.
  5. Capstone Project. This is where you develop a pitch for a new venture and perfect it to the point where you could stand in front of a panel of VCs and win them over. Those with the best pitches will actually be introduced to the most fitting VC firms in Wharton’s entrepreneurship network.

Measure twice and cut once, they say. This course lets you dip a toe into the ocean of entrepreneurship before jumping in without a plan for survival.