Students want to focus their energies on, for instance, developing a pricing strategy for their startup, at the expense of doing a homework assignment on pricing for their marketing class. Both experiences can teach students about pricing, but the startup pricing challenge is both more nuanced than the homework assignment, and instills a greater desire to learn.
The challenge for business education is how to merge the student entrepreneurial journey with the hard work of learning and applying tools, theories and methods. In an ideal educational experience an all-knowing master instructor would accompany a student in the quest to create a viable business and provide deep tutorials exactly when needed. Regrettably this model is unfeasible because such individual instruction would be prohibitively expensive, even if a sufficient roster of all-knowing teacher guides could be assembled.
An alternative approach we are trying at Wharton is to group several dozen student entrepreneurs into a class that earns actual course credit focused on the development of those students’ startups. The trick in making this work is in realizing that new ventures share many themes, even though they vary widely in the specifics of the product or service they provide. All new ventures face the challenges of identifying target markets, understanding customer needs, developing product concepts, securing capital, and building teams. These common themes can provide the pedagogical structure necessary for a credit-earning academic experience.
The separation of theory and practice has been convenient for business schools, allowing an efficient partitioning of knowledge into academic departments and into courses with a single disciplinary foundation. But that separation isn’t only frustrating for students; it also distances professors from the problem settings where they can add the most value.
Engaging the faculty in the application of theory to student projects doesn’t just benefit students; it exposes us to new puzzles and tests the relevance of our scholarship.
Curated from “Why Business Schools Should Let Their Students Start Businesses” [Wall Street Journal]
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