How Alberta’s business schools and faculties are approaching entrepreneurship

Although, the concept of an entrepreneurial university was first explored two decades ago, it is still an emerging field.  As part of both business education and entrepreneurship literature, the nature of entrepreneurialism as it relates to business schools has become a topic of increasing relevance. In addition to equipping graduates with entrepreneurial thinking skills, university business schools are increasingly developing their own entrepreneurial presence – helping to build and leverage entrepreneurial capacity within the school, other university faculties and departments, and their broader stakeholder communities.

EdD graduate Alison Gray investigated how university business schools in Alberta are developing their entrepreneurial presence – the strategies and rationale behind their initiatives, as well as the critical success factors and barriers business schools face in achieving their entrepreneurial goals. Dr. Gray interviewed business school leaders across Alberta’s five major publicly funded universities and used the results to compile an in-depth survey that was distributed to business faculty and leaders at each of these schools. The qualitative and quantitative results were combined and conceptualized into a ‘roadmap’ for business school leaders to consider as they work within their unique entrepreneurial ecosystems to identify opportunities, plan their entrepreneurial efforts, and measure outcomes.

Going entrepreneurial

While entrepreneurship is often associated with new venture development and the pursuit of profit, for business schools and their universities the value of embracing an entrepreneurial orientation is a broader range of outcomes and measures of success.  Each business school’s approach to entrepreneurialism is uniquely tailored to their entrepreneurial ecosystem and the opportunities, resources, and priorities that they choose to focus on. The research concludes that Alberta university business schools are growing their entrepreneurial presence through specially-designed entrepreneurship centres, executive education programs, and related innovations in pedagogy and curriculum.  The business schools perceive themselves to be institutional leaders in the entrepreneurial space.  This is not to say that business schools work in isolation, rather that they are key drivers in early entrepreneurial efforts; have explicitly sought to involve other faculties and departments; and support expansion of efforts throughout the entire university.  This has been referred to as business school extension model.

The two key measures of success in the business school entrepreneurial space were success stories as a form of currency and entrepreneurial thinking as a sought-after skill by employers of business school graduates.

Going beyond the traditional view of entrepreneurship as new venture development, business schools are teaching students to think entrepreneurially, a valuable skill that graduates bring to organizations whether it’s within industry, non-profit, government, or community/volunteer organizations.   By teaching students how to be innovative thought leaders within an interdisciplinary team environment, the ultimate outcome is graduates who become business/community leaders and change-makers. Their success stories reinforce the market positioning of the business school to prospective students, funding partners, and other stakeholders.

As a result, Alberta business school leaders see both obligations and opportunities to extend this entrepreneurial orientation throughout the larger university and stakeholder community. The business school perspective is that work that is led by the business school can be adopted and modified to meet the needs of other university faculties and departments to achieve broader impact and influence.  Entrepreneurialism is thus both a strategic positioning and a market advantage.

A long, non-linear road

Developing an entrepreneurial presence is not a straightforward step-by-step process. While early efforts may have focused on delivering entrepreneurship courses as part of traditional business school curriculum, entrepreneurially-oriented business schools are taking a more expansive view.  For example, equipping graduates with the ability to think entrepreneurially is seen as a competitive advantage that needs to be embedded into every aspect of the business school program.  While understanding how to develop new business ventures is one part of entrepreneurship, business school leaders saw greater impact in developing well-rounded, innovative thinkers.

Dr. Gray’s study highlights how business schools are playing a central role in building entrepreneurial activities within their school, their university, and in the community.  The initial vision is often championed by a small group, typically a dean, interested faculty, donors and/or key industry partners.  The vision for entrepreneurial activities may take years to come to fruition, as there needs to be a convergence of ideas, resources, interest, and commitment.  However, a critical success factor in advancing an entrepreneurial orientation is securing the support and commitment of the business school dean.  This key leader plays a critical role in recognizing opportunities; linking interested stakeholders and resources; and supporting the transformation of entrepreneurial ideas into shifts in a business school’s strategies, culture, programs, and processes.

While the notion of entrepreneurial universities is not as established in Alberta as it is in other parts of the world, Alberta’s university business schools have demonstrated an entrepreneurial orientation through their entrepreneurship-centres, executive education programs, and changes to their pedagogy and curriculum.  Moreover, there are plans to continue developing their entrepreneurial strategies to benefit both students and employers, as well as to actively engage other university faculties and departments in these plans.

Ultimately, Alberta business schools are forging their own unique path to entrepreneurial success depending on their particular ecosystem mix of opportunities, champions and stakeholders, resources, and desired outcomes.