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Tor Aase Johannessen er siviløkonom fra NHH og MBA fra Cornell University. Han var i flere år undervisningsleder for NHH-studiet Master in International Business (MIB), og har forelest ved Etter- og videreutdanningen ved NHH, og ved BI-Bergen. Han er faglig ansvarlig for Forkurset til Gründerskolen i Bergen.

Øivind Enger er leder i FORINNOVA AS. Han er dr. scient., med 12 årserfaring fra forskning i molekylærbiologi og fiskesykdommer. Enger har fem års erfaring med kommersialisering av prosjekter i generell biologi, akvakultur, medisin og bioteknologi.

Experiental Learning in Entrepreneurship Education

“Entrepreneurship is the mindset and process to create and develop economic activity by blending risk-taking, creativity and/or innovation with sound management, within a new or an existing organisation”

In most Western countries, the contribution to the GDP from the largest companies, including the so-called “industrial locomotives”, has been declining over the past years. Substantial layoffs in some of the largest industries have propelled the unemployment rates, and in some countries, such as Germany, this rate has reached a two digit number.

On the other hand, we see an increase in the number of new ventures in many European countries, including Norway, and the EU and many other organisations have launched substantial campaigns in order to increase the number of people creating their own ventures. In addition, many business schools have developed programmes in entrepreneurship, some of them leading to a Master’s degree. Quite a few business schools have also established centres for entrepreneurship, based on the idea of crossover between different academic areas such as finance, marketing, organisational theory and psychology.

EXPERIENTAL LEARNING

Most courses in business administration – including entrepreneurship – are based on the traditional concept of one-way communication, with the students merely as passive receivers of theory, and one or more exams, measuring how much of the knowledge they are able to reproduce. More and more often, courses include group work, either in order to enhance the learning of relevant theory, or working with cases based on the “real world”. The concept ofexperiental learning, however, is based on the underlying philosophy of involving the students as active learners.

Experiental Learning is composed of three components3.

These three components:

  • Knowledge – based on concepts, facts, information and prior experience,
  • Activity – based on knowledge applied to current, ongoing activities, and
  • Reflection – based on thorough analysis and assessment of one’s own activities 

constitute the basis for experiental learning, and makes the students’ participation more valuable for them, as well as enhancing the learning outcome. If we apply the concept of experiental learning to the field of entrepreneurship, it implies that the method not only will ensure that students will learn the relevant theories, but will also enable them to master an area of knowledge which they otherwise barely would recognize.

EXPERIENTAL LEARNING APPLIED

In 2001, we developed a course in entrepreneurship based on experiental learning at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in cooperation with FORINNOVA, a company acting as a catalyst for commercialisation of high-tech and bio-tech research results at the University of Bergen. Most of the students are in their final year of study, and since it is held in English, many CEMS4 students as well as exchange students sign up for this course. As part of the entrepreneurship course, the students were allocated group wise to selected entrepreneurial ventures at various stages, ranging from the concept stage, to the production stage, where key personnel were guiding them, and at the same time observing the process of learning the field of the venture. The students were given full access to all information held in the company, including research results, and were then expected to analyse the product idea and concept even if it had not been fully developed into a product or service yet. During the process, the students were taking lectures where relevant knowledge from several fields, such as marketing, accounting, finance and organizational theory was presented.

PROJECT PARTNER

FORRINNOVA is an independent technology transfer company partly owned by The University of Bergen, by the Norwegian government and by private financial and industrial capital. The project portfolio of the company reflects the main research activities of the of the University of Bergen faculty, meaning a strong bias towards marine biology and medicine. The cases presented to the business students comprise projects in all stages of development from immature potential business projects being no more than a promising lab result coming out of basic science to established companies with more than 20 employees. Thus, the students are confronted with real-life problems ranging from analysis of potential products resulting from scientific inventions via concept testing of product ideas to analyses of existing markets and evaluation of existing start-up companies.

Common to most of the business projects is – as mentioned above – that they expose the students to advanced technology more or less coming straight out of the science labs at the university. It is crucial that the students are able to understand at least the basic scientific concepts of the projects which often mean direct communication with the inventor behind the idea. Another fundamental feature of technology transfers from universities is that they rely heavily on their degree of IPR-protection through their patent and trademark strategies. As a part of their project work, the students are introduced to secret information which often leads to FORRINNOVA requiring them to sign non disclosure agreements.

The student projects normally last for three to four months and the work alternates between independent work by the students, group work and meetings with personnel from FORRINNOVA and from the start-ups. The students are led through a process in which they become more and more involved in their specific commercial project but also in technology transfer as such. As the student projects often deals with innovative products where there are no established markets of any known size, the students are challenged by assessing sizes of market involving high degrees of uncertainty, a skill we hope they will benefit from if they choose an entrepreneurial career.

INTERACTIONS WITH CURRICULUM

There is a high level of interaction between student business project and course curriculum:

  • Lecturer uses examples from present and earlier student projects in own teaching
  • Students use problems encountered in the projects as basis for interaction with teacher
  • Application of adequate theory to analyze the real-life business cases forms an important core activity in the course
  • Projects keep course focus on a practical approach where theory is applied as a tool to solve a problem and not as theory alone.
  • Phenomenon from business projects are used to illustrate theory during class lessons

INTERACTIONS WITH COMPANIES

The interaction between the student and the start-up companies resembles a consultant situation:

  • Students learn that in most cases they themselves have to “dig out” the information they need to perform their analysis.
  • Students become motivated from feeling useful and appreciated when they learn that their skills really have applications in real business life.
  • “Poor” start-up companies get free consultancy help
  • Company management, often recruited from science, is forced into a business thinking
  • Contact between students and start-ups makes a platform for recruitment of the business students into the companies.

LEARNING OUTCOME

During the course, the students clearly demonstrated that the popular assumption of business students as mainly analytical and critical is not true if they are exposed to real life problems in entrepreneurial ventures. Their creativity was much larger than expected, as was clearly seen in the final reports made by the students. It was also clearly demonstrated that when exposed to techniques aimed at developing the student’s creative abilities, they demonstrated substantial skills in innovation. As a preliminary conclusion, we may say that business school students when given the right tools to develop their creativity in addition to the basic knowledge in business administration they already have represent an interesting segment as potential entrepreneurs. Studies, particularly in the US, have shown that a majority of failures in entrepreneurial ventures is due to lack of understanding of marketing and finance, and not lack of creativity.

EPILOGUE

Based on the successful outcome of the principles of experiental learning, it was decided to apply these to the introductory course of Grunderskolen5 when this was introduced in Bergen in 2002. The structure of this course is somewhat different, as it is based on modules, with lectures once a month, and with ample time for the students to socialize as part of the set-up. This seems to further enhance the learning process, as much as it provides a setting for exchanging knowledge and opinions.

Notes

  • 1: Not to be confused with experimental - the word experiental is derived from experience
  • 2: Source: “Green Paper: Entrepreneurship in Europe” (presented by the EU ), document based on COM (2003) 27 final, Brussels,21.01.2003
  • 3: Institute for Experiental Learning, Washington, DC, web address www.iel.org
  • 4: CEMS = Community of European Management Schools (see www.cems.org) - a strategic alliance of 17 European business schools, where NHH representNorway
  • 5: For more information on Grunderskolen, see the webpage at www.grunderskolen.no

© Econas Informasjonsservice AS, Rosenkrantz' gate 22 Postboks 1869 Vika N-0124 OSLO
E-post: post@econa.no.  Telefon: 22 82 80 00.  Org. nr 937 747 187. ISSN 1500-0788.

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