What Entrepreneurship Educators Should Know: Lessons from the Price Babson Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators

Jam-packed and intense—these are two adjectives I would use to describe the four-day-long Price Babson Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE), which I had the privilege of participating in this past May. The symposium, which is one of the leading training programs for entrepreneurship educators, had already graduated 33 classes, comprising more than 3200 individuals from over 650 institutions worldwide. As a participant in SEE 34, I had the pleasure to collaborate, brainstorm, and learn from and with 59 other educators from 13 different countries (from the United States and Canada to Thailand, Bahrain, Brazil, and Argentina). Moreover, I spent a significant part of the training in a group.

The symposium required all participants to wear two hats: a student hat and an educator hat. In fact, true to SEE’s motto “Action Trumps Everything,” in addition to attending lectures daily from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, we also worked in small groups of 4–6 participants to discuss what we were learning and apply it to a group project. Each group had the goal to come up with an innovative entrepreneurship education idea and deliver a three-minute rocket pitch about it in front of the Babson faculty and fellow SEE participants during the final day of the training. My group included Dante Freitas from Devry University in Recife, Brazil; Hyun Park from Ramon Llull University in Barcelona, Spain; Akshaye Dhawan and Carol Cirka from Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA; and Michael Scott from Dr. Jorge Alvarez Public School in Providence, RI. After four days of learning and brainstorming we came up with a program with the following idea and rocket pitch.

Aside from the rocket pitch presentation, here are several interesting insights from the training I would like to share with my fellow entrepreneurship educators:

  • Design Thinking is an essential ingredient of entrepreneurship education: As a first step in our SEE project, our group engaged in design thinking. In a nutshell, design thinking is a process by which your customers (the people for whom you are creating) gain valuable insights, which potentially can lead to innovative solutions. Usually the design thinking process entails three steps:
  1. Define an opportunity space and select an area within the space to observe: In our case, we looked at photos of different groups of students engaged in entrepreneurship education related activities.
  2. Observe your space and record facts and not interpretations: Our session emphasized that observations are facts without judgments. This is perhaps the hardest part of the design thinking process, because participants have to be mere observers and ensure that they are not interpreting and attributing based on their own preconceived notions. Observing and collecting facts without immediately judging those facts is extraordinarily difficult, but it is critical to developing useful insights.
  3. Develop insights from your observations and share them with your group: Observation represents the “what,” while insights represent the “why.” What are the motives, thoughts, and mental models behind what you saw? Insights uncover hidden meaning and needs while creating a more useful understanding of the observations. For example in our group we had the following observation: “Students use idea paint to write on the walls all over the Babson Campus.” –which led us to the following insight: “Students often appear most engaged learning outside a traditional learning environment, such as a classroom.”

Consequently, based on our insight from the design thinking session, our group came up with our idea and rocket pitch presentation.

  • When it comes to measuring the success of an entrepreneurship education program, focusing only on the number of ventures created by its graduates is a misleading metric, at least in the short run: The Babson faculty pointed out that creating a new venture is very difficult and requires a lot of experience and a steep learning curve. In fact, of the graduates of Babson’s flagship entrepreneurship programs (Bachelor’s: four years; Master’s: two years), the percent of graduates who have started a business within three years of graduation are 10 percent for the bachelor program and 20 percent for their MBA program. Therefore, instead of focusing on the number of ventures created, Babson prefers to focus on measuring the acquisition of what they refer to as the entrepreneurial skillset and mindset.
  • Measure the entrepreneurial mindset and entrepreneurship skillset: Instead of purely focusing on percent of ventures started by the graduates of its entrepreneurship program, Babson has developed some tools to capture the acquisition of key entrepreneurial skills and behaviors in its graduates. The point of the tool is to also demonstrate that entrepreneurial thought and action are necessary ingredients for success not only in start-ups, but also in large established companies. The tool involves a series of aptitude tests that measure your progress at entry-mid-point and upon graduation from the program. My guess is that developing such a tool should be a priority for all comprehensive entrepreneurship education programs, because it is an excellent way to showcase the skills acquired by participants in the short run.