You Can’t Teach People To Be Entrepreneurs, But Entrepreneurs Can Be Taught

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A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

Despite the fact that I teach entrepreneurship at UC Santa Barbara, I do not believe that entrepreneurs are created in classrooms. Instead of trying to teach students to be an entrepreneur, I expose my entrepreneurial students to tools that will help them solve real-world problems.

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I treat each of my classes as a product that the students are paying a lot of money to consume. As such, I work hard to understand their expectations and I strive to live up to them. For instance, I assign an Ombudsman in all my classes in order to gather anonymous feedback. During the first class of each quarter, I ask the students what they expect to gain from the class and I try to incorporate the students' expectations into my curriculum. I also encourage my students to provide me with constructive criticism during my office hours, which a surprising number do.

Hands-on And Practical

When I was an MBA student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, I was frustrated that most of the Professors in the Entrepreneurship Department had never been entrepreneurs. Although they were all accomplished researchers in their respective areas study, their lectures were theoretical and academic. Because of my dissatisfying experience as a student, I emphasize skills and anecdotes my students can apply to real-world problems.

I believe college serves many purposes beyond simply equipping young people for the work world. However, I also strongly assert that Universities are remiss when they do not offer students pragmatic skills that can be used in their future careers. Thus, diligent students leave my classes with insights and tools they can directly apply to their jobs after graduation.

Challenging

My courses are rigorous and demanding. Of the 41 student ratings on Rate My Professor (RMP), I have earned a 4.4 out of 5 in both Helpfulness and Clarity. I am likewise pleased that my courses have not been rated "easy," earning an overall 2.9 for Easiness. I am proud that students who express satisfaction with my classes also note that they involve a significant time commitment.

True Meaning Of Success

I want my students to understand that success involves far more than making money. In fact, I emphasize throughout my courses that the pursuit of material gain, without nurturing a healthy personal life, is an assured recipe for unhappiness.

I illustrate this point by inviting successful men and women to share their triumphs and failures with my students. I recruit humble, well-rounded speakers who have not only been prosperous in business, but who have also enjoyed fruitful and full personal lives and have demonstrated a willingness to give their time and money back to their communities. It is through these speakers that my students see living examples of true success.

Honesty

The importance of high ethics and maintaining a good character are recurring themes in my classes. I taught a Business Strategy And Leadership class for several years. I especially enjoyed this course because it afforded me with the opportunity to discuss ethical dilemmas raised in case studies involving real companies. I challenged my students to consider the decisions they would have made in similar circumstances. I also made it clear that a healthy corporate culture can guide employees to make kind and just decisions.

My speakers also help me counter the Hollywood meme that business people become successful by being dishonest. I make it clear to my students that honesty is an entrepreneur's greatest asset, as it is much easier to succeed when you develop lifelong relationships with devoted stakeholders, as opposed to constantly battling people you have wronged throughout your career. I remind my students that, “time wounds all heels.” No matter how clever you may think you are, dishonesty will eventually catch up with you.

Experiential

I believe that entrepreneurship is best learned experientially and that business expertise is acquired in a fashion similar to athletic skills. You can read books, watch videos and talk with experts about how to hit a baseball, kick a soccer ball or serve a volleyball, but until you get on the field or court, you will never master the game.

Thus, I require students to practice skills outside of my classrooms. In my New Venture Creation class, students must develop a business proposal by speaking with potential customers, competitors, investors and suppliers. In my Entrepreneurial Sales class, students must put into practice the persuasion skills we discuss in class by conducting Object Lessons in the real world. Each Object Lesson requires them to influence or persuade a stranger.

Self-directed & Accountable

I treat my students like adults. I tell them during the first class that I expect them to be autonomous when it comes to keeping up with the readings and completing their assignments. I am also clear and consistent regarding how late submissions will be treated and in nearly every instance, the students rise the occasion. The large majority of my students are Seniors. Thus, treating them professionally and holding them accountable helps prepare them for their imminent transition to the first stage of their professional careers.

Inspirational & Passionate

I believe that professors should inspirational. A significant value that I bring to the classroom is encouraging students to take calculated risks that help them reach their professional and personal potential. Even students who are not entrepreneurially minded benefit from someone giving them “permission” to follow their dreams. Although I am respectful of the advice students receive from their parents, I remind my students that ultimately, it is their life and they are the only person who knows what is “right” for them.

To reinforce this point, I share in all of my classes that the most common regret elderly people have on their death beds is, “I wish I would have lived the life I wanted to live and not the life others wanted for me.” I encourage my students to live the life they want to live.

Self-aware

I believe that one of the most important elements to success in life is self-awareness. Greater understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses lends one to form complimentary teams that allow you to shore up your shortcomings and augment your attributes. In business, teams comprised of diverse talents become formidable competitors. In one’s personal life, self-awareness facilitates establishing lasting friendships and finding one’s life mate.

Most importantly, my classes also offer students a safe environment to determine whether or not they have the proclivities and emotional maturity to succeed as an entrepreneur.

Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never tweet about killer burrito or majestic rainbows.

Image: Pixabay

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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