Thursday, 6 April 2017

Not an entrepreneur? Why this doesn't matter. (PART 1 OF 2)

Anna Nibbs
Enterprise Education Developer

I've previously confessed, in a blog post on University of Sheffield Enterprise's student-facing website, to the fact that, while I'm an enterprise education practitioner, I'm not an entrepreneur. Despite being immersed in this field for over six years, the word "entrepreneur" itself has always sat somewhat uncomfortably with me. I have never run my own business. I have never formally studied business. My professional experience is firmly rooted in education development, and learning and teaching innovation.

In the field of enterprise education, we suffer from a long-standing vocabulary issue. So many people seem to have issues with the words 'enterprise' and 'entrepreneurship'.

And I'm not alone in feeling like this.

Our Enterprise Educators UK (EEUK)-funded research into student perceptions of enterprise education (Barluenga et al., 2013) made this only too apparent - the disparities among the initial perceptions, from students studying diverse disciplines, of enterprise education terminology led us to conclude that there is value in:
"...a clear definition of enterprise, specific to the institution, which students feel able to relate to. [...] after TUoS’s definition was given to students, they were much more confident in identifying and articulating examples of skills development in this area." (Barluenga et al., 2013:54)
We'll be addressing the question again at an event we're hosting in partnership with EEUK on 28 June. But we have a long way to go.

In the USE Academy team, we work with a large, diverse community of highly inventive, motivated, and creative academic colleagues striving to do enterprising things with their own curricula, in order for their students to develop skills that will make them better subject experts, better researchers, and potentially more employable.

During my meetings with colleagues in academic departments, many open up and say "but I'm not enterprising; I'm an academic!"

The fact is, that many enterprise education practitioners, and lecturers/teachers who innovate in the curriculum, are often operating as intrapreneurs (Pinchott & Pinchott, 1978).

Intrapreneurship, originally referred to as "intra-corporate entrepreneurship" (Ibid.) proposes that employees of an organisation are given time within their working week to engage in entrepreneurial activity - scoping out, problem-solving, being creative, and innovating. If there is a problem faced by the organisation or its stakeholders, customers or key partners, the intrapreneur has the freedom to tackle this problem, to behave as an entrepreneur whilst still benefitting from the security of an employment contract, terms and conditions, and the infrastructure provided by their employer.

Pinchott (1999) extends the idea, proposing that organisations develop units within their structure that operate, themselves, as small enterprises, trading products or services with other parts of the organisation.

Is this a model that we see in universities? Certainly it seems that way. Our working lives are littered with internal trade orders and so on. Many departments operate as small businesses in their own right, offering "B2B" services to staff in other units around the institution.

The concept of intrapreneurship is highly relevant within many fields. An obvious area where this approach is valuable would be the disciplines in Medicine, Dentistry & Health (Murdoch-Eaton, 2014), a Faculty at the University of Sheffield to which I provide dedicated support. The majority of students studying within these fields will enter employment with large organisations upon graduation. Students taking postgraduate courses in, for example, Public Health, are often already experienced healthcare professionals.

And we are starting to see examples of intrapreneurship being used explicitly within teaching contexts - and not just in healthcare. We have recently agreed to fund a curriculum development project in the University's School of Education, targeted at students on a number of distance learning courses, that focuses entirely on this approach.

Abilities to think creatively, solve authentic problems, take action, take measured risks, and collaborate - in other words, to be enterprising or, dare I say it, entrepreneurial - are not just useful added bonuses that make someone slightly more employable; they are the crucial things that enable a graduate to be effective, and to be capable of making a difference, and bringing about positive change.
"The greatest opportunity in the world today is the opportunity to help form the social inventions which will allow people to lead lives which more fully express their potential. People have enormous potential for goodness, for insight, for creativity, for intimacy, and for work. [...] The development of the entrepreneur is a step toward freeing individuals, our organizations, and our society to use our potential for building fuller, more meaningful, richer and more productive lives for us all." (Pinchott & Pinchott, 1978).
Not all students will become entrepreneurs. The majority won't. But supporting and empowering them to develop the capabilities to be enterprising, and entrepreneurial, will enable us to lead Sheffield graduates into a realm far beyond mere employability, whatever their chosen professional path.

But what about HE learning and teaching itself? Are academics truly able to intrapreneurial with their own teaching? These are questions I'll be exploring in Part 2 of this post.


Barluenga, M., Elliott, C., Nibbs, A, and Riley, A. (2013). ‘Enhancement of curricular enterprise education incorporating students’ perceptions and feedback at the University of Sheffield’. Full Project Report. EEUK.

Murdoch-Eaton, D. (2014). Enterprise – “a dirty word?”. Presentation delivered at USEA event 'Enterprise is NOT a Dirty Word': in conversation with Professor Deborah Murdoch-Eaton’, 4 June 2014. The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.

Pinchot, G. & Pinchot, E. (1978) Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship. Tarrytown School for Entrepreneurs.

Pinchot, G. (1984). Intrapreneuring: Why You Don't Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur. New York: Harper & Row.

Pinchott, G. (1999). Intrapreneuring in Action. Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

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