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Top tags: HP LIFE  NACCE  Cata  Catawba Valley Community College  entrepreneurial college  entrepreneurial students  entrepreneurs  entrepreneurship  entrepreneurship history  female entrepreneurs  female entrepreneurship  Garrett Hinshaw  Otis J White  Rio Salado College entrepreneurs  Small Business Centers  teaching entrepreneurs 

Is It the Generations or a Special Mindset That Should Drive How We Educate Entrepreneurs?

Posted By Otis J. White, Sunday, December 1, 2013

Is Entrepreneurship a generational thing or an ageless pursuit?

There is always a lot of talk each year about the "new generations of students” and their changing needs. Teachers are asked to change the way we test, teach and manage each new student group in the classroom or online so they can become a success. We have a vast array of books comparing the Boomers to the X’ers; the X’ers to the Y generation and so on up to today’s New Silent Generation or Generation Z. These generations have many names depending on who is naming them. The Population Reference Bureau lists 7 distinct generations beginning in 1871 through 2001. My guess is you have not seen this list as it is not the popular one in use by publishers these days but it is worth a look.

The more popular list is:

2000/2001-Present - New Silent Generation or Generation Z
1980-2000 - Millennial or Generation Y
1965-1979 - Generation X
1946-1964 – Baby Boomers
1925-1945 - Silent Generation
1900-1924 - G.I. Generation

It is true that new advances in online resources, social media, networking, access to information and global connectedness on the Internet have changed the way we teach and the way students learn across generations. I am not sure, however, that these distinctions always apply when we are talking about Entrepreneurs from either today or yesterday.

Where the notion of these "effectors” comes from …

In 1755, when his pamphlet was published in France posthumously, Richard Cantillon (1680s – May 1734) gave us the name "entrepreneur” and a new class of commerce was born.  In his pamphlet Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général (Essay on the Nature of Trade in General) he uses the word "entrepreneur” to define someone who undertakes to bring goods, capital and effort together in a market town to create a system to make goods available to everyone and grow the wealth of the community. The entrepreneur takes these actions at his own risk, and not for an employer, which is the crucial element in his or her actions. In Cantillon’s view the entrepreneur is someone who acts independently of a job and the security of a paycheck.

 J. B. Say continued the use of the word (and popularized it) to define someone who was a key part of the political economy and an actor who creates wealth for all in that community through their actions of taking on economic risks. The entrepreneur is someone who can transcend class and social position to attain wealth. In the 1920’s Joseph Schumpeter went further and described this entrepreneur as someone who changes the world by destroying old systems (creative destruction) bringing new ideas, products and services to the people through technical invention, market innovation and replacement of old slow ways with new and more efficient ones.

Today, economists clearly see entrepreneurs as the creators of the foundations of wealth and social mobility in our economy. Entrepreneurs are also the creators of most of the new jobs, so badly needed in our communities.  

To me, each of these generations, 1750’s through today, sound like the same risk taking person. And the entrepreneurs I meet in my work as an educator, whatever age,  all share a common set of values and world view with their past cohort; they are a driven, action oriented and risk taking bunch.

How we change the way we teach will make all the difference …

So the question is not how we as colleges teach some new generation but how do we teach new members of an old and venerable group of thinkers and doers so they will be motivated to grow our economy and change the world for the better. In the past we probably did not see them in our classes, or at least we did not recognize them fully and really adapt our teaching to their needs. Our new charge is to recognize and serve them. A mandate that will define our collective futures as colleges and as communities and fundamentally change the way we all do education.

The call for us to move from being only traditional centers of college degree success to one in which we serve the broader learning needs of the community is a daunting and inspiring one. In our classes at the community colleges we have a rich mix of generations and personal learning styles and interests who are with us today for many reasons. Some are looking to move up in their jobs, some are just getting their basic education and some are completely changing what they are doing for a living.

What the entrepreneurs among them share is an impatience with our all too often agricultural model of 8 to 15 week courses and fall, spring, summer class schedules taught in weekly lessons. They demand a more just in time approach and access to answers to their questions when they have them, not when it suits a particular class competency design.

Entrepreneurs, whether in the 1700’s or today, want information they can use when they need it and in bite sized pieces which can be applied immediately to solve problems. In her research on successful entrepreneurs Saras D. Sarasvathy gives us a good look at the needs of entrepreneurs. She calls their perspective on the world Effectuation. Effectuation is defined as the act of implementing (providing a practical means for accomplishing something); carrying into effect.

This should sound familiar, it is the same definition we have been applying to these folks for over 250 years. They effect … make things happen … create new ways and means and change the world we live in. They are in a hurry and are focused on their dream and not our dreams of the perfect student. The HP Life web site is a perfect example of how these effectors want information delivered. The lessons are online, free, practical, focused on specific problems and engaging as lessons. They appeal to these quick minded and action oriented people and offer us a way to support the students we have, and the communities we live in, with learning materials designed for the those who wish to undertake the creation of a market and change their world.

As others have shown in their posts before me, including these HP Life modules into our classes and programs is an excellent way to help entrepreneurs accomplish their learning goals on their own schedules. It is also a great example of how Open Educational Resources (OER) can be found and used effectively in our classes versus the traditional approach of expensive text books. Rio Salado College is currently using these modules in 6 of our online classes and is planning their inclusion into 6 more online classes in the future. We use them as competency based learning tools as well as authentic assessments of learning; two cornerstones of curriculum.

As we rethink how we will run our classes in this electronic and social media soaked age we need to remember that at the heart of all these generational classifications is a person who may just transcend the generational stereotypes.  As educators we need to think like them, destruct the old ways of teaching, and create a new way of learning that suites the entrepreneurial way. This may mean changing the way we award credits, schedule classes, choose materials and evaluate performance. It also means that we need to look closely at how we engage with our communities and make learners, both credit and non-credit, a leading part of our agenda. In an increasingly Open Educational Resource (OER) world we can serve as guides to quality learning and help students find resources and ways of thinking about their businesses that leads to success. As Schumpeter pointed out in the 1920’s, the secret to a vibrant economy and higher standards of living for all is a robust and creative class of entrepreneurs. We, as entrepreneurial educators, can help them achieve their dreams.


Otis J. White is the Faculty Chair of Business & Public Administration at Rio Salado College. For more than 20 years he has performed research, taught thousands of students and developed academic curriculum for entrepreneurship, small business growth and economic development for both the Maricopa County Community Colleges and Arizona State University. As an entrepreneur, White created two successful companies before serving in academia and continues to mentor new entrepreneurs in their efforts to join the path to economic freedom and personal success. He serves as an HP Life Ambassador for NACCE and can be reached at for more information about HP Life. 

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Tags:  entrepreneurial students  entrepreneurs  entrepreneurship  entrepreneurship history  Otis J White  Rio Salado College entrepreneurs  teaching entrepreneurs 

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