What Entrepreneur Ever Got a Degree in Entrepreneurship?

What Entrepreneur Ever Got a Degree in Entrepreneurship?For some time now I’ve been convinced that education will go the same way as the music industry. The similarities are profound. They both charge more and more for a product of reducing quality by a means that’s out of touch with modern needs.

A few weeks ago I was at an education event and was introduced to a professor of entrepreneurship. During our conversation it turned out that she had never bought any company shares, had never invested in a startup, and had never worked for any kind of company.

It struck me that it was a bit like having the Pope teach a course on sex, reproduction and parenting.

What possible value could this professor possibly add, what insights and wisdoms? Beyond the published books and articles, she appeared to know relatively little, and was certainly devoid of any experience.

So why would anyone attend such a course when there are far better alternatives – and in some cases, they’re on the net for free?

Her argument went along the lines that people have to go to a real university to get a degree-level qualification that can only be judged by academic staff. I don’t think she had noticed the number of degree-qualified people putting ketchup on burgers.

So I looked at the prospectus for her course and came to the conclusion that 50 per cent of the topics might be of use in a big company but had no relevance whatsoever in a startup. I then stumbled across the latest Stanford offerings – free online courses in entrepreneurship for startups and in technology entrepreneurship.

Watch the video at the top left of the startup entrepreneurship page and then ask yourself if you were a student which course would you rather attend? This online one or a formal degree course?

What’s more, I know of no one famed for entrepreneurship – Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison et al – who took a course in the subject, let alone a degree.

For some disciplines you definitely need a lot of education and experience, but a degree qualification is not the main event – especially when it adds no real value.

image credit: educationtranslation.org

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Peter CochranePeter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. His career in telecom, IT and academia spans 40 years including CTO and Head of Research at BT and the UK’s first Professor for the public Understanding of Science and Technology. Peter’s work can be found at www.cochrane.org.uk.

Peter Cochrane




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No Comments

  1. Sophie Davis on December 13, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Hi, thanks for the insight!
    This is the perfect example to illustrate the fact that you can’t learn to be an entrepreneur. You have to be one. You have to start companies, you have to create products…
    I’ve just started a website where I plan to gather advice from entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. It’s very new, so stay tuned: https://lesmugs.com
    Mixergy.com is another site that’s really good for entrepreneur to entrepreneur advice sharing.

  2. Karen Bailey on December 13, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    I have the opportunity to “guest teach” several times a year for the Center for Student Entrepreneurship at the University of Washington. Although this isn’t a “degree” it is an outstanding introduction and hands on business approach to what it could take to become an entrepreneur. The students work in teams, develop a business concept and work towards building a complete business case that would be both financially attractive to a venture capitalist and compelling to a customer base. The University packs the semester with experts like myself who come in and share not only our experiences–but teach them relevant skills and knowledge. My area of expertise is in selling–understanding what customers value and how to competitively differeniate in your market space. At the end of the semester they compete for funds to take their business concept to the next step in the real world. I don’t know their specific statistics but many students have graduated and on gone on to become succesful busines people and entrepreneures. This type of program is a great example of how Universities should be working with students–what a great way to teach students about “what it could be like” and to instill the belief that “anything is possible”.

    • Peter Cohrane on December 13, 2011 at 6:36 pm

      Karen = Definitely a far better way – and the way I was bought engineering and science too – by people who had actively engaged in professional practice. In the UK we used to have ‘night school’ programmes exclusively taught by professionals in their field. I spent 7 years on that track….before I got to university. Real understanding and real experience…Peter

  3. Peter Cochrane on December 13, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    S = I reckon you have had to have lost your own money a few times in order to ‘really get it’ 🙂 P

    • Sophie Davis on December 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      Exactly…:) what doesn’t kill you makes you stonger, right?

  4. James on December 16, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Nice food for thought – I liked to go to Universities where the people teaching had actually practiced what they preached. However, I bet for the price of the degree in entrepreneurship (what a word!), you could have given it a go a few times – perhaps struck lucky. We did start a business at school (for free – lots of time) with something called Young Enterprise – alas we made tie-die rubbish and only a little profit but it taught a little of the basics – selling shares, accounting, selling generally.

    When does knowing little ever stopped people giving advice or indeed being listened to? Say something in a believable fashion and it will often be believed.

    • Peter Cochrane on December 19, 2011 at 3:27 am

      James = I had that good fortune – but not entirely by accident 🙂 Peter

  5. Peter Cohrane on December 16, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    James = Seems to me that this tired old model of education is due to be replaced and/or sidelined soon….Peter

    • Peter Cochrane on December 19, 2011 at 3:29 am

      James = Indeed it is – it happened to the music industry – education is already in the ‘cross-hairs’ – and it is only a matter of time. Peter

      • James on December 27, 2011 at 9:23 pm

        Peter = Yes – still an interesting future we live in – miss those heady days in the Labs when anything seemed possible – loved your speech on the intelligence of machines – reminds me of good times. J

  6. Peter Cochrane on December 28, 2011 at 6:09 am

    James = Pleased you liked it…and yes you are right …anything was possible, and still is if you have managers who know something of the problem and the technology 🙂 Peter

  7. Jeff Davidson on January 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    I’m likely taking this Stanford class myself, and I also (admittedly biased) recommend the free business courses – built and peer reviewed by credentialed professors – at Saylor.org (where you can earn a free certificate too).

  8. Peter Cochrane on January 4, 2012 at 4:25 am

    Jeff = Get as much as you can from the course, and seek out the company of the investors and entrepreneurs. Learn from everyone you can before you take the plunge and start your own company. Peter

  9. Pranjal Dhaka on May 17, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    That’s what they said in Good Will Hunting.

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