Friday, 30 June 2017

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

Anna Nibbs
Enterprise Education Developer

In my previous post on this subject, I explored the idea of intrapreneurship (Pinchott & Pinchott 1978) in higher education, and highlighted a number of examples of where intrapreneurship as a concept is, itself, being used in the delivery of embedded enterprise education.

It seems true that in undertaking and delivering truly innovative curriculum development and teaching, the developers and deliverers of that teaching must sometimes behave as institutionally-located entrepreneurs.

But is this really the case? Are they truly supported to do so? Are the parallels between innovative learning and teaching, entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship meaningful enough to be acknowledged as real?

And does it even matter whether they are, or not?

I referred in my previous post to the academic colleagues I often encounter who protest - despite plenty of evidence to the contrary - that they are not in the least bit enterprising.

And yet very often, such colleagues are 'repeat offenders' when it comes to disrupting the norms and conventions of HE-level learning, teaching, and assessment. They're also the 'usual suspects' when it comes to engaging with the many mechanisms of learning and teaching support, best practice sharing, and professional development offered by the University.

Many of the same colleagues USE has supported over the years were also connected in some way with CILASS, one of Sheffield's Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs), part of a HEFCE-funded enhancement initiative which ran from 2005 to 2010.

These same colleagues attend USE Academy events, but also frequent Digital Commons seminars, TELfest sessions, internal HEA Fellows Network events, and many others. They might secure funding from us, and they might also use a wide range of other sources of cash for curriculum development from elsewhere in the institution.

Learning and teaching innovation? They can't get enough of it.

These educators are evident subject experts. They are also guerilla innovators, 'disruptors', problem-solvers, and takers of measured pedagogical risks. Very often, they're also among our most inspiring teachers, embodying the many characteristics we want our students to develop, winning awards and accolades for their innovative approaches. Their ideas, once tried and tested, are often adopted, adapted, mashed up and remixed by others.

And it looks, on the face of it, as if what we're doing at the University of Sheffield is providing a model for "learning and teaching intrapreneurship" that shares many features with those mechanisms offered up as key to fostering more conventionally-understood forms of academic entrepreneurial activity (see, for example, Kirby 2006, p601).

To a large extent, we have 'top-down' corporate entrepreneurship support from our senior executive for the learning and teaching innovations developed by our 'bottom-up' intrapreneurs (Rigtering & Weitzel 2013). There are formal mechanisms in place, including not only the USE Academy, but other professional services, units and departments around the institution. And, as we move to implement the University's latest Learning and Teaching Strategy, this infrastructure continues to grow.

However, as with entrepreneurship in a business sense, or the developments of new innovations within research, there are risks and caveats attached to being a learning and teaching innovator. Sometimes the experimentation pays off; at other times it can be disastrous professionally.

Time can be a factor. For academics who also conduct discipline-specific research, pressure comes from a requirement to strike a balance between competing areas of professional responsibility. Young, keen, teaching-focused academics are often encouraged to take on responsibility for a large number of additional learning and teaching 'initiatives' on top of their substantive subject teaching roles.

Accreditation requirements from professional bodies can offer both opportunities and constraints, depending on how they are interpreted, and how much room, time or support academics have for creativity in their teaching approaches.

Innovators are sometimes perceived as troublemakers, or their success can seem intimidating to others trying to follow in their footsteps.

There is the sense, sometimes, that too much innovation can "get people's backs up". And there is great variation in the extent to which innovation is learnt from, taken on board, and embedded or 'mainstreamed' within an institution, field, or sector, as was only too clear in the final evaluation of the CETL programme (SQW 2011), and is evidently also an issue for universities' commercialisation and spinning out of research (Kirby 2006, p600).

All that teams such as ourselves can do is to continue to offer a wide range of curriculum development support services, customisable, bespoke, and accessible through many different avenues and platforms, in the hope that we offer a sufficient range of support to suit our diverse community of teachers, academics and educators.

It does, however, help if we "know our customers".

  • Are there, perhaps, particular characteristics associated with educators, academics and teachers who are especially intrapreneurial with their teaching practice?
  • Are these the same characteristics exhibited by enterprising researchers or commercial business founders?
  • And does environment, past experience, home subject discipline, or the nature of one's contract have an influence?

All of this warrants further investigation. Understanding what leads our academics to be enterprising could help us better to support them in doing so with their teaching.

This post is nominally Part 2 of a series of 2. And yet I feel that I am only scratching the surface of this subject. I suspect this might be an issue that runs and runs...


Kirby, D.A. (2006). Creating Entrepreneurial Universities in the UK: Applying Entrepreneurship Theory to PracticeJournal of Technology Transfer, 31(5), 599–603, 2006.

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

Rigtering, J.P.C. & Weitzel, U. (2013). Work context and employee behaviour as antecedents for intrapreneurship. International Entrepreneurship Management Journal, 9(3), 337-360, 2013.

SQW (2011). Summative evaluation of the CETL programme: Final report by SQW to HEFCE and DEL. London: HEFCE.

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