Study: Entrepreneurs First Get Down to Business in the Classroom

Adults classroom
Adults classroom

Entrepreneurs aren't just born; they're made -- in classrooms.

A new study by Babson College found "overwhelming evidence" that even just a few elective courses in entrepreneurship can inspire students to later launch their own businesses.

Researchers at the Wellesley, Mass., school said the findings should put another dent in the old argument that entrepreneurship cannot be taught. "We now have excellent empirical evidence that it makes a difference," they wrote. "We think that entrepreneurship should be taught not only for the production and training of entrepreneurs but also to help students decide if they have the right stuff to be entrepreneurs before they embark on careers for which they may be ill-suited."

If students want to really light a fire under their unformed dreams to someday launch a startup, three classes are better than two, the researchers added. The extra lesson time apparently further persuades students to become their own bosses. But taking just one class doesn't do the trick, researchers determined. Apparently, some take a single course out of curiosity and decide that running a business isn't for them.

The study also found that taking classes had a greater impact than having parents who were entrepreneurs, and that the number of students who desired to begin a company and later actually began one did not differ between undergraduates and graduate students.

A handful of Babson professors analyzed the career paths of 3,755 Babson graduates from 1985 to 2009. Their conclusion: "We believe that entrepreneurship should be taught to every business student because it is the very origin of all businesses -- after all, there would be no business schools if there had never been any entrepreneurs!"

Note that the findings might not be agenda-free. Babson is a business school, and a good one: Its MBA program was ranked first in entrepreneurship by U.S. News & World Report in 2010, and its undergraduate program was ranked 17th by Bloomberg Businessweek.

But the point is well-taken: Learning about entrepreneurship can be a smart first step on the road to actually becoming an entrepreneur.