What’s distinctive about entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education? – PDW at 3E 2016 Conference

The 3E Conference (ECSB Entrepreneurship Education Conference) has been held annually since 2013 in Europe, coming to the UK for the first time this year, in response to the explicit political agenda at national and EU level to promote Entrepreneurship education at all levels of the school system. The assumption is that entrepreneurial skills are the key to enhancing an innovative culture, which in turn will result in higher competitiveness and economic growth.

This relatively small (~100 participants) conference is consciously participative, friendly and open, with every session apart from the best paper nominees given “un-plugged” (no power point presentations) with only 10 minutes of introduction, and 30 minutes facilitated questions and answers. There are no keynote speakers and lots of time in and around the sessions for networking. New for this year was the introduction of a Practitioner Development Day. It was attended by a mixture of researchers, practitioners and support staff.

Mine was one of 16 PDW’s (Practitioner Development Workshops) in 4 parallel sessions on the first day on the following themes:

  • Engagement, impact and evaluation
  • Entrepreneurship for non- business students
  • Entrepreneurial learning, incubator and executive education
  • Values, ethics and critiques of Entrepreneurship education
  • Pedagogical theories in Entrepreneurship education

My PDW had been developed from my realisation that the word “entrepreneurial” had become pretty ubiquitous.

Advertisement seen in Newcastle in 2016 – begging the question “What business is not entrepreneurial?

Are we perhaps in danger of over using the term and rendering the word’s meaning to be so all-encompassing as to become nothing but a trendy label? Is it time to get clearer about what we really mean when we educate in entrepreneurship? How can we differentiate entrepreneurship manifest in the HE sector in any subject discipline from entrepreneurship as a subject discipline? Recent work (Lackéus, 2015) promoting value creation as an educational philosophy grounded in entrepreneurship would suggest that an entrepreneurial approach may be taken to teaching and learning in any subject discipline in an educational context. Where does that leave HE programmes claiming to teach entrepreneurship? What implications does this have for the curricula of such programmes? Using the theory of threshold concepts and the concept of expertise as bridges between the domains of education and entrepreneurship; I developed a practitioner workshop aiming to explore the distinctiveness of specialist entrepreneurship programmes, more general Business programmes and other type of HE programmes, using the visual research method of triad comparison. My intention was that participants would leave this workshop with a clearer understanding of the potentially unique differentiating characteristics of specialist entrepreneurship programmes, enabling better curricula design and delivery, as well as the improved marketing of such programmes.

My workshop was called “What’s distinctive about entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education? – threshold concepts and expertise”. The 30 participants working in small groups were asked to identify what characteristics pairs of the items in the triad had in common, that were not shared by the third, and note them on the template handout. I was introduced to this visual research method in a REDP session given by Elaine Hall, Reader, Northumbria School of Law. I secured ethical approval from both Durham and Northumbria Universities to record and collect the data at this session as I planned to use it as part of my doctoral research, into threshold concepts in Entrepreneurship Education.

The key questions which were investigated were:

  • How are programmes with entrepreneurship at their core distinct from general business programmes, and indeed from all other HE undergraduate programmes?
  • What are the most important and distinctive concepts of programmes with entrepreneurship at their core? What may be the likely threshold concepts of entrepreneurship education?

By clarifying the distinctiveness of programmes specialising in entrepreneurship, attendees were able to explore ways to enhance curricula design and the delivery of their programmes, and be able to develop clearer marketing campaigns for such programmes, improving their communication to prospective candidates.


The triad comparison method used is a robust knowledge elicitation technique which produces representations of domain concepts, and encourages the elicitation of attributes that are central to distinctions within the domain (Cooke, 1994). Threshold concepts are defined as concepts which open up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something (Meyer & Land, 2003). One of the strengths of the notion of threshold concepts is how effective it is in engaging academics in discipline-specific conversations about teaching, the expectation being that the identification of these threshold concepts will allow more effective curricula design. This workshop constitutes exploratory research in preparation for a transactional curriculum inquiry study using a staged design, to identify perceptions of the concepts in entrepreneurship education which are transformative for student learning in HE, and how this knowledge might be used to optimise the effectiveness of such programmes.

The style of the workshop was informal, interactive and participant led. It was designed for almost exclusive participation and delegate involvement with only a very brief introduction. Visual research methods and conceptual techniques of knowledge elicitation were not familiar to many of the participants who found them of interest and potentially applicable in many contexts where a dyad-comparison approach might prove unsatisfactory. Discussions ranged to explore the design of the curriculum of entrepreneurship programmes, as distinct from approaches treating entrepreneurship as an underpinning educational philosophy with wider disciplinary applications.

Reviewer feedback was very positive; “Without doubt, this proposal is on a very interesting and highly relevant topic by addressing fundamental questions by using an interesting pedagogical method.” (Reviewer 1). “The underpinning philosophies will be of interest to a wide range of conference participants.” (Reviewer 2). I was delighted and proud to be given the “Best Practitioner Development Workshop” Award for the conference. My grateful thanks to Elaine Hall, Elaine Campbell and Vicky Gleason who enabled me to pilot the workshop, and also to Professor James Cunningham who gave me feedback on my written conference submissions.


Cooke, N. J. (1994). Varieties of knowledge elicitation techniques. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 41(6), 801–849.
Lackéus, M. (2015). Value Creation as Educational Philosophy. (Doctor of Engineering), Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Meyer, J. H. F. & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (1) linkages to ways of thinking and practising within the disciplines. Improving student learning theory and practice – 10 years on. (pp. 412–424). Oxford: OCSLD.

Author: Lucy Hatt is a Senior Lecturer & Programme Leader at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University. She won the Best PDW (Practitioner Development Workshop) Award with her workshop titled “What’s distinctive about Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial education? – Threshold concepts and expertise” at the 3E 2016 Conference in Leeds, UK on 11–13 May 2016.

Entrepreneurial education supporting the digital entrepreneurs of tomorrow

It is widely accepted that there is a need to nurture and ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of young people across Europe. Central to achieving this we need to raise awareness, and with it the ambition of young people so they have the knowledge and desire to be Europe’s next entrepreneurial success. While there is a number of programmes and summer schools that seek to teach entrepreneurship, STARTIFY7 is a project funded under Horizon 2020 that takes a different approach.

Now in its second year STARTIFY7 has supported over 120 young aspiring digital entrepreneurs who are looking to start-up and scale-up. The second round of themed STARTIFY7 academies are open for registration – including all accommodation and travel for participants from EU universities and high schools – see www.startify7.eu for more details. This blog presents a brief summary of what it is that makes STARTIFY7 stand out as a model of entrepreneurial learning.


A day at our Internet of Things Academy in Nuremburg

Startify7: Beyond the Status Quo

In reviewing a cross section of the current entrepreneurial education and support aimed at young people, our analysis highlights provision to be polarised between university lecture-based learning and business start-up training. For many young people, what is missing is the opportunity to develop real-world entrepreneurship experiences and develop hands-on enterprising competencies. To bridge this gap the STARTIFY7 team, comprising universities, accelerators and entrepreneurs associations has developed an innovative model to support the digital entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

The STARTIFY7 10 day academies aims to select the best young aspiring entrepreneurs from across Europe and develop theirs skills and confidence to start-up. Each of the summer academies is themed, in order to bring together participants with a range of skills with mentors who have a shared interest, while also recognising different ICT fields often have distinct business models. STARTIFY7 offers a structured programme focused on building entrepreneurial skills and developing prototypes, at which participants develop, test and pitch their business concept.

In contrast to many of the existing training programmes around Europe, the STARTIFY7 academies are pan-European with participants from twenty-eight countries attending the first three academies. The emphasis on building international teams that have the potential to scale-up makes STARTIFY7 different, with participants learning about digital enterprise across Europe from their peers. During the academies there is an emphasis on teambuilding and what makes a good team, with participants encouraged to think about how their skills fit alongside others when building an effective team. In this way STARTIFY7 seeks to increase the ambition of young entrepreneurs by getting them to think global from start-up.

While many entrepreneurial training programmes focus on fundraising, STARTIFY7 is all about LEAN. By focusing on real-world problems and supported by an international network of experts, currently 71 and counting, the emphasis of the STARTIFY summer academies is to develop a lean business model and create a minimal viable product. In this way, and working with the mentors and coaches, the teams then seek to validate their ideas and collect learning from and about their customers to enhance the product and services offered. By getting out of the classroom, the intense approach of STARTIFY7 promotes an active learning approach, which sees ideas fail fast, pivot or iterate as they pitch to the Jury at the end of the summer academy.

See a Snapshot of our Digital Health Summer Academy at the University of Sheffield

At the end of 2 entrepreneurial weeks in summer 2015, the 4 winning teams from each of the STARTIFY7 academies Digital Health in Sheffield, Internet of Things in Bavaria and Cyber Security in Trento, went on to compete to become European Champions at the STARTIFY7 bootcamp.  Following the academies the teams were supported with remote coaching to further develop their ideas before an intense 3 days in Brussels where the focus was on refining their business concepts. At the end of the bootcamp each team was required to pitch an ‘Investment Ready Proposal’ to a panel of esteemed angel investors, venture capitalists and incubators from Europe and the US.

What next for Startify7?

As a project we are looking to push the boundaries and test what works in developing an innovative programme of learning and doing for digital entrepreneurs. After the first cycle, STARTIFY7 like any good start-up is looking to learning and iterate! We have validated the Startify7 concept, as is reflected in the feedback of our participants but also our mentors and the investors attending the summer academies and the bootcamp. We are having an impact, but we can do better.

In summer 2016 we will be hosting academies focused on Digital Transportation, Simulations, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Video Games and IT-driven Social Entrepreneurship. These academies will take the STARTIFY7 concept to a new level. Building on the success of 2015, the academies this year have established links with more entrepreneurs and businesses to ensure that the participants in 2016 get the best possible start to their entrepreneurial journey.

Beyond the 2016 summer academies and bootcamp, the STARTIFY7 team is exploring a range of models to ensure that this approach is not lost including a sponsorship model, participant pays model, launching STARTIFY7 mini academies, releasing the STARTIFY7 model via Creative Commons as well as launching a new STARTIFY7 academy in partnership with universities and accelerators outside the current consortium. If you are interested to learn more and get involved with the STARTIFY7 team contact is at info@startify7.eu

The STARTIFY7 project led by the University of Sheffield and financed by the European Commission under Horizon 2020 Programme, and implemented by a consortium of 11 partners from UK, Greece, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Authors: Kate Penney, Dr Robert Wapshott and Professor Tim Vorley are based at the Centre for Regional Economic and Enterprise Development at Sheffield University Management School, UK.

Understanding the Entrepreneurial Learning and Support Needs of Older Unemployed

We know from EU statistics that older people constitute a group at risk of falling into long term unemployment; once unemployed, the risk of not finding a new job is higher for this cohort. The route of entrepreneurship or self-employment is highlighted by policy documents as a panacea for unemployment for all age groups. The literature maintains that older people are generally more capable of starting and running businesses than their younger counterparts. However, to embark on an entrepreneurial path, older people often need to acquire skills and training. Due to their age and former education, they may not have actively engaged in prior entrepreneurial learning.

This blog presents a brief summary of the main findings from a needs analysis of older unemployed in Ireland. The findings are drawn from interviews and focus groups with older unemployed and a focus group with representatives from enterprise support agencies and organisations, department of social protection, non-profit sector, banking sector and the national organization for the unemployed.  The following barriers were found to hinder individuals from considering self-employment or translating their entrepreneurial intention into action:

Financing and access to micro-finance was a particular problem. Older unemployed perceive the enterprise support and finance system as favouring younger, higher technology and growth oriented businesses. They would like to see more of a willingness to support those who create a job or additional income for themselves and/or one or two others.

Self confidence in the ability to come up with a business idea and to turn that idea into a viable commercial or social enterprise was an issue.  The key component of this self-confidence was the apparent lack of appreciation, relevance or value of their life experience and life skills that are transferrable to an entrepreneurial endeavour or a new job opportunity. Aligned with this, most, at this stage of life seemed hesitant to venture down a solitary entrepreneurial path.

There is a general fear of the loss of the security of welfare benefits, which leads to risk avoidance behaviour and thus a barrier to entrepreneurship.  Where borrowing or finance options are available, there is an unwillingness to take out a loan at a late stage in life due to the risk of debt.  When it comes to business itself, there is a lack of desire to scale up or take on the responsibility of additional staff. They stated they have to be careful with their savings because they are also thinking about retirement, so it has to be understood that their options here are not the same as the options for younger counterparts.

A frequently expressed concern throughout was access to the communication channels and information to start their own business.  Much of the information regarding funding supports and other business supports are on an online website or portal and can be more difficult to access in person.  Without the ability to access this online information, it is feared that they will be at a disadvantage from the outset.  Knowledge of Incubator centres, finance, or other support services were not obvious to older unemployed and again there is a perception here that those who are comfortable navigating online sites, IT or Social Media have a competitive edge over them.

MyBusiness consortium partners at transnational meeting in Athens
MyBusiness consortium partners at transnational meeting in Athens

So what can we do to address these barriers?

One clear message from the interviews and focus groups with older unemployed is the openness to training and development. The underlying reason here is that they do not want to feel left behind the rest of the workforce when returning to any form of employment including self-employment. The findings in relation to entrepreneurial learning fall under the following headings:

Learning needs
Participants identified personal and interpersonal and networking skills, entrepreneurial skills, business skills, managing a business, book keeping and paperwork as areas where they would like to develop further.  Technology and IT skills and knowing how to access funding were recurring themes throughout.

Social Network and Community
The members of the older entrepreneur’s social network can either hinder or help the start-up process.  Networking and acquiring the necessary social capital to start a business was problematic for those who switched to a different industry to their main career employment, and for those whose social capital had become obsolete due to long-term unemployment. However, a number of participants had plans to tap into social capital from earlier employment to gain support for starting a business in a particular sector.  The benefits and potential of peer to peer support was evident from the focus groups where participants were open and willing to provide help and support to each other. Enabling this comradery through any training intervention would help create a sense of community to alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation that was mentioned by some participants.

Intergenerational learning
Throughout the course of the study, a number of individuals expressed an interest in working with the younger generations in order to learn new technologies and new business practices in a practical way.  This area of knowledge transfer is something that could benefit this project and similar projects going forward. ‘Reverse mentoring’ was also suggested, whereby younger entrepreneurs mentor older entrepreneurs.

Role models
We all like to hear from people who have travelled the road ahead of us, and older unemployed are no different. There was a sense of excitement at a suggestion of meeting and hearing from entrepreneurs who started their businesses later in life.  These encounters could act as a motivational tool for the participants, while also providing guidance, support and practical advice.

Support for those that support older entrepreneurs
The findings suggest a need for greater sensitivity by the enterprise support system, and the staff operating this system, to the needs of older enterprising people.  In the context of the back to work enterprise supports offered through the Department of Social Protection, the role of the case officer is very important in identifying and supporting unemployed people with business ideas. In general the feedback on the supports was positive, but a lack of consistency in service delivery was noted. There may be a case for training, information sessions or mentoring for front line staff in terms of entrepreneurship support.

After care
Participants raised a concern in relation to the ‘after care’ aspect of the proposed training under this and other projects. On completion of entrepreneurship training programmes, they would like to build on what they have learned and also build on the relationships that they have established. They would like further interaction with the trainers, mentors, participants and support agencies. The progression routes from support programmes are not always clear or open to them.

This research was carried out in Ireland for the MYBUSINESS project. The project is financed by the European Commission under the Erasmus+ Programme and is implemented by a consortium of six partners from Romania, Ireland, Belgium, Greece, Spain, and Austria.

Authors: Dr Breda Kenny & Isabel Rossiter are working on this project at the Hincks Centre for Entrepreneurship Excellence at Cork Institute of Technology, Ireland.

ECSB Research Blog – Call for Content

The European Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ECSB) is a non-profit organisation whose main objective is to advance the understanding of entrepreneurship and to improve the competitiveness of SMEs in Europe. ECSB Research Blog disseminates and demonstrates the impact of our research on the wider economy and community. It is envisaged that the blog will provide an outlet for short, interesting, current, and thought provoking content on how our research matters. The Blog is intended to inform, educate and enlighten readers with evidence of how current research in Entrepreneurship and Small business is having an impact.

The Blog is a free publishing forum for all ECSB members. If you are interested in publishing in the Blog, please send a text to info@ecsb.org. Your text will be reviewed before acceptance. You can join ECSB at http://www.ecsb.org/shop/.

Content type: Content written for the ECSB Research Blog should be free of professional jargon and technical terms, light on references, but heavy on areas of research impact.

Topics of interest:  Suggested topics of interest may include:
1. Research impact from authors’ stream of research
2. Industry engagement and collaboration for entrepreneurship research
3. Case study/project based evidence of research impact
4. Any other relevant topics of interest