Grand Designs: Creating a new mindset for entrepreneurial education

Entrepreneurial education needs a rethink. Here we talk about educational needs in a brave new world
Written by Kathryn Cormican

Evidence shows that students participating in entrepreneurial education are more likely to start their own businesses (Ahmed et al, 2020). Exposure to entrepreneurship at an early age can have lasting impacts, therefore it is highly recommended to involve students early. Early interventions expand options and allow students to build on their knowledge at a later stage. Prior work suggests that equipping young students with entrepreneurial skills also has a greater effect on the development of non-cognitive skills such as teamwork, self-esteem, and self-confidence which can last a lifetime (Hajer and Hatem, 2022).

However, teaching entrepreneurship can be a messy and complex process. Educators struggle with student engagement, appropriate content and a lack of intuitive tools. It is evident that educators must be equipped with the appropriate tools so that they can implement good practices in the classroom. They need content and tools that are relevant, right-sized and easy to digest. Universities and higher education institutions offer many innovative entrepreneurial programmes and courses to foster student ad staff engagement. Indeed many of these are committed at implementing great impact and guidance by focusing on a specific type of educational approach and research, that guide good practice as demonstrated by ACEEU's standards 10 Education and 11 Research. However, despite progress, existing curricula in the area of entrepreneurship focus on plans and outputs and do not meet the needs of students. Most entrepreneurship education programmes emphasise learning about new venture creation rather than using tools to actively engage in entrepreneurial activities. Students are often required to come up with a business idea very quickly at the beginning of the semester, and then perform planning activities and show economic viability at the end of the programme.

Insufficient attention is paid to solving problems, coming up with ideas and acting on them. Entrepreneurial education should move away from approaches that focus on “about” and “for” and focus more on the “how” and “through” (Linton and Klinton, 2019). In other words, we need to pivot from programmes that focus on abstract theory building towards approaches that foster tangible skills such as mindsets, methods and tools. Entrepreneurship education and learning should mirror the entrepreneurial process by emphasising action, real-world experiences, and reflection and students should learn through practice and iteration.

While it is still important to help educators to develop some traditional entrepreneurial competencies (e.g. identifying markets, and generating business models), this is no longer sufficient. It is crucial to follow a suitable process that is supported by tools and templates. It is also imperative to create an environment conducive to creativity, problem-solving and risk-taking to engage students while ensuring to not leave anyone behind. In recent years educators are turning to the concept of design thinking as a mechanism to enable this environment.

A design thinking approach focuses on building empathy, discovering problems and experimenting with many ideas to solve problems and challenges. Essentially it is about showing people how to look with fresh eyes, identifying opportunities and problems, and testing and implementing ideas. This approach is based on templates and toolkits that are used and applied iteratively. Experimentation is a central part of this perspective. It is proven to foster an entrepreneurial attitude by promoting engaging, effective learning experiences and allowing students to experiment and practice (Grivokostopoulou, et al, 2019).

This approach has been widely used to design solutions in industry, yet it has received little attention in schools. A design thinking approach to entrepreneurial education allows students to follow a process, and apply templates and tools to come up with problems and ideas. It enables them to understand the mindsets of entrepreneurs and develop tangible skillsets. It fosters a student-centred process and work can be graded on the development of competencies rather than output.

Is it time to shift our mindset towards this approach?


Ahmed, T., Chandran, V. G. R., Klobas, J. E., Liñán, F., & Kokkalis, P. (2020). Entrepreneurship education programmes: How learning, inspiration and resources affect intentions for new venture creation in a developing economy. The International Journal of Management Education, 18(1), 100327.

Grivokostopoulou, F., Kovas, K., & Perikos, I. (2019). Examining the impact of a gamified entrepreneurship education framework in higher education. Sustainability, 11(20), 5623.

Hajer, C., & Hatem, D. (2022). Combining Teaching for and through Entrepreneurship and Interaction between Developed Skills. Studies on Education, Science, and Technology 2022, 103.

Linton, G., & Klinton, M. (2019). University entrepreneurship education: a design thinking approach to learning. Journal of innovation and Entrepreneurship, 8(1), 1-11.


Entrepreneurial education challenges student needs design thinking

About the author

Kathryn Cormican
Professor in Systems Engineering and Director of the Enterprise Research Centre in the School of Engineering, University of Galway (Ireland)

Kathryn Cormican is a Professor in Systems Engineering and Director of the Enterprise Research Centre in the School of Engineering at the University of Galway in Ireland. She leads a large multidisciplinary research team working in the area of technology innovation and entrepreneurship. She is internationally recognised for her contribution to research and has won many prestigious best-paper awards. She has been a keynote speaker at several international conferences and has published extensively in high-impact journals in her field. She has secured over €2.5 million in research income and is currently leading three EU-funded projects. Her contribution to both research and practice has been recognised through several invited keynote addresses at international conferences and symposia. Kathryn directs an award-winning MSc programme specifically designed to equip graduates with the requisite skills needed for employment in the high-tech industry. She received the President’s award for teaching excellence in 2018 and was awarded Female Entrepreneurial Leader of the Year in 2022 by the Accreditation Council for Entrepreneurial and Engaged Universities.



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