What are the barriers to teaching effectuation in the entrepreneurship classroom?

Teaching entrepreneurship or enterprise education in Higher Education can mean a range of things to a range of teachers and students. As effectuation is recognized as the method employed by expert entrepreneurs when evolving their projects to businesses it would seem natural to bring it into the classroom. If our students can practice effectual ways of decision-making and working in a safe environment then surely this ‘training’ will make them better prepared to become entrepreneurs, if that is a choice they make, or even as intrapreneurs in the companies they are employed in. So in process or ‘through’ courses it would make sense for teachers to bring effectuation into the classroom as a powerful means to move students towards entrepreneurial action. However drawing on findings from our case study, described below, we found that there were three distinct barriers to using effectuation in the classroom.

Process courses and student-centered learning

Process courses are very different from the traditional type of courses taught at universities. Traditional courses lay responsibility heavily on the teacher to deliver – a good lecture – knowledge in ways that the students can understand and are able to re-produce. Here the roles are set, teacher as expert, student in a role as receiver and reproducer of knowledge. Even though some university courses have shifted towards active learning with students working in groups with activities which are put in place that engage students in a range of ways, the process course is a different category of teaching. The process course requires that students understand that the balance of responsibility for learning has shifted and that the onus of responsibility is weighted towards themselves. As far as the teacher is concerned there is a shift, not only in who has responsibility for learning, but that new roles have to be undertaken e.g. as facilitator, mentor, role-model etc. For entrepreneurship education the ‘through’ course is about a process and about student-centered learning.

The case

Drawing on findings from a case study of a thirteen week process course with 142 undergraduate students we noted how students struggled with effectual decision making logics. Initially the students were positive and excited about the course being ‘different’ from the traditional delivery of knowledge in lecture based courses. The students were expected to work in teams, find a common area of interest, identify a challenge, develop ideas, research the particular context and develop a business model for their potential market. The course was carefully constructed to combine effectuation and design thinking elements to facilitate development of creativity, ideas, finding potential stakeholders and to elicit learning through. Beginning with the students’ own means, competences, skills and resources in the form of networks, was the first step in the effectual process. The process was carefully facilitated by the teachers.

Barriers

Three barriers were identified for students in the process course based on effectuation as a method. These were i) noviceness, ii) school project versus real life, and iii) perceived lack of legitimacy of teachers and process. We will elaborate on them in the following.

Being a novice

Novices are people who lack experience and are new to a particular field. Undergraduate students may be regarded as novices in a number of ways – as people, as students and as team players. The students are novices as people having a young age and lack experience of life in general and work in particular. They have not yet had the chance to build up a range of life experiences or to have built up diverse networks that extend beyond close family and friends. Furthermore these students were often unable to articulate their own skills and competences beyond what qualifications they had received from schooling/education. The bird-in-hand principle requires the student to understand their own potential, their networks and to draw on resources available to them. Many of the students were quick to look at other people’s challenges and had difficultly bringing themselves into the equation. They are also novices as students having been schooled in particular ways of learning  – and that there is only one right answer. Moving to a different way of working where the outcome is unknown was extremely difficult caused much concern and frustration. The students often linked this frustration to the exam and what they were going to be asked about. This conflicts with another principle of effectuation – the pilot-in-the-plane – where there is control over the project and commitment to the outcomes in the team. Being team players caused anxiety for many students who had come to the course not knowing the other students. The teams were randomly put together by the teachers so the students had to work hard to get to know each other, find out what resources there were in the team and to understand how the others worked. Instead of understanding other team members as potential resources or access to resources they felt uncertainty, insecurity and concern about ambitions and level of commitment.

School project versus real life

Once the initial excitement with the course had died down the students began to express doubts about the authenticity of the project. Was this just another school project to be completed so that they could get a good grade in the exam at the end? Was this a real life project that could become a business in reality that would have markets and a product? Was this a project that was ‘pretend’ for real? These underlying concerns influenced the (lack of) commitment the students made to varying degrees which in turn affected the connections they made to stakeholders outside of the project. This conflicts with the crazy quilt principal.

Legitimacy of the teachers as experts

The teachers sought to set themselves up as role models, facilitators, innovators, by validating their expertise. However the students were suspicious of the teachers in these roles and articulated uncertainty about entrepreneurs working using effectuation. Instructions were ignored e.g. in the brainstorming process and students went straight to their pre-agreed ‘good idea’ and fixed on that. They were therefore not open to take in surprises and leverage contingencies from the process.

What can we learn from this study about using effectuation in the classroom?

As effectuation starts with the means of the students and brings their experiences into play there is both the potential for an opportunity and a threat for the entrepreneurship classroom. Being able to acknowledge the importance of noviceness (in all its forms), the school project/real life project and the legitimacy of the teachers means allowing for insecurity, uncertainty and suspicion on the part of the students. These are signifiers of an important missing element in the classroom – the element of trust. Trust can only be built up over time and in an environment where insecurity, uncertainty and suspicion are acknowledged and articulated. Students are confronted with a real fear of failure and feel threatened. The threat is a personal one, to their identities as people and to their roles as a ‘good students’.  The fictive nature of the project invokes uncertainty about how much to believe, how far to go and who to involve. A disconnect between what they are expected to do as ‘good students’ and what they should achieve ‘as potential entrepreneurs’ creates tension. Not only do we as teachers have to become adept at picking up on these signifiers but we are pushing our students towards new identities and new roles by exposing them to effectuation. It is therefore important that trust is built between the teacher and students and between the students themselves establishing new roles and an environment where it is acceptable to not know the answer or outcome and where there is room to experiment with new identities. If we can build trust we might succeed with teaching effectuation; if not we will certainly fail.

sarah-and-franziska
Sarah Robinson and Franziska Günzel-Jensen

Authors: Sarah Robinson is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Teaching Development and DIgital Media in the Faculty of Arts at the Aarhus University and Franziska Günzel-Jensen is an Associate Professor at the Department of Management in the School of Business and Social Sciences at the Aarhus University. The blog post is based on their paper “Critiquing Effectuation in Entrepreneurship Teaching with Undergraduates” that won a Best Paper Award at the 3E 2014 Conference in Turku, Finland on 9-11 April 2014.

An Early Career Researcher’s Journey through 50 Years of ICT Sector Development

After a long educational gap (decades rather than years), I returned to full time education to pursue a Masters in Business by research. The project sponsors had set the research topic and it was the research area that attracted me to apply for the scholarship. The project was to explore the development of the ICT sector in Ireland, from its beginnings, search for drivers and inhibitors for the industry development and to explore the role of government industrial policy and technical education. A broad and ambitious project.

In the frightening vista that is a complete research project, I initially took refuge in attempting the possible and achievable. Reading broadly about the research process itself, checking out referencing software options, gaining familiarity with the locally available library resources kept me busy and productive in the early stages. I read as broadly and generally around the edges of the topic, while struggling to get to grips with units of analysis, various research philosophies, finding and reviewing available literature. I neglected to write and was annoyed with myself that I had to backtrack to find relevant information quite often. This led me to include writing about what I had read as a regular task.

Eventually, however, my research questions had to be addressed. The largest struggle I faced was to find an acceptable method to deal with the length and breadth posed by the research. How long is a piece of string (even worse, multiple pieces of string) that has/have been unravelling for over 50 years? My first efforts centred on seeing if I could find coherent datasets that would allow me to track progress of the industry and ‘put numbers’ on the development.  After much searching, I moved camp and focused on qualitative research methods. The search for drivers was a driver of its own kind and tormented me with questions about causality. Being a novice researcher, I was also completely unsure of whether I was deducting based on hypotheses or inducting and developing theory.  Information overload was another difficulty as I struggled to review data relevant to government policy, technical education and the ICT sector.

However, it was certainly not all doom and gloom. It was refreshing to be back in an educational environment. It was thrilling to discover relevant information during my first visit to the National Archives. It was a privilege to meet individuals who had worked in the early Electronics industry from its outset in the early 1960s – even if I cringe a little when I hear my own voice on the interview recordings. In general, everyone I encountered was helpful and encouraging.  I learned so much from speaking with ‘experiential experts’. A major turning point was the doctoral seminar in Belfast, where I met with other early career researchers and was pointed in the direction of critical realism as a philosophy which lends itself to the study of development and change.

On investigation, critical realism would allow my unit of analysis, the ICT sector in Ireland, to be viewed as an open system where the various agents had their own structure and agency, along with mechanisms which could act (or not act) depending on conditions. I equated these mechanisms to my drivers of the ICT sector. This fitted well with my research questions and confirmed that a critical realist qualitative case study would provide answers.  A draft methodology chapter followed and that was my own personal roadmap for the rest of the project. I was much happier to feel that I at last knew where my project was going and where most of the parts fit.

Over the course of the year-and-a-half I interviewed 15 people, visited the National Archives four or five times and read avidly, transcribed my interviews and carried out a data analysis of the information gathered. The more seasoned researchers will not be impressed, but for me, these were all first research experiences. Having successfully concluded and having graduated, I have a better understanding of the research process, but I am still learning.

And how does all of this relate to entrepreneurship?

It doesn’t.  However, the development of the ICT sector follows and intersects with the rise in the recognition of entrepreneurship within Ireland. Throughout my research project, entrepreneurship featured. Alongside the foreign owned firms, a few indigenous electronics firms were always active, and in increasing numbers with time. (Telectron, System Dynamics in the 1960s, Lake Electronics started in 1979, SMC, Baltimore Technologies in the 1980s, etc.).

Entrepreneurship has been ongoing.  It is visible in the changes in government policy and indeed in the changes in structure of the government support agencies. Initially, the IDA were responsible for both FDI and indigenous industrial development.  In 1978, they had an Enterprise Development Programme to encourage first-time entrepreneurs. However, the IDA were also focused on the policy of foreign direct investment which brought such companies as GE (EI and Ecco in the 1960s; Westinghouse and DEC in the early 1970s; Apple and EMC in the 1980s), generally acknowledged as ‘seed’ companies which trained managers who then developed the next cohort of management for further FDI or who subsequently started or managed indigenous firms.

Around 1993, the government took their first steps to separate support for indigenous industry and this led to the creation of enterprise boards to support microbusiness and, by 1998, led to the creation of Enterprise Ireland, who exclusively support indigenous industry with greater than ten employees.

Investment in the Irish indigenous industry led to a focus on entrepreneurship as a means of industrial development for the ICT sector. Where the Culliton Report, in 1992, named the low level of entrepreneurship as an inhibitor for the economy, by 2004, entrepreneurship was “an essential condition” for sustainable enterprises in Ireland, according to the report “Ahead of the Curve”. Development of a strong indigenous software industry pointed to a change in attitude, around the mid-1990s. Engineers and other business entrepreneurs were more willing to risk investment in a start-up company.

Some of the data I collected, supported a rising awareness of the importance of entrepreneurship.

And then with the whole dot.com stuff there was a huge interest in it.  The support structure that came at the individual level in the start: the incubation centres, the accelerated programmes like the Enterprise Development Programmes. That was one thing that was necessary to help people realise and give them a support structure to start a business.” (Interview 9).

This entrepreneur had grown up in a family business and had always wanted to start his own, which he did in 1994. In the area of IC design, one company took a ‘bootstrapping’ approach to start up. They began by selling design services to large multinationals until they were ready and they:

took on venture capital and everybody went on the product. But at that time, you are doing a better deal with the venture capitalists… you are a real company. You’re really successful. You already have skills. You already have a proven track record in the area so you are doing a much better deal” (Interview 8).

The focus on entrepreneurship appears to have had an effect on the mind-set of people and their willingness to back their business ideas by starting up themselves. Eventually, entrepreneurship moved into the mainstream education in Ireland with the development of incubator companies on campus and access to entrepreneurship modules within other disciplines.

However, entrepreneurship was not seen as a cure-all for the economy. Within the data I collected, two dangers in current entrepreneurship training were mentioned. The first was where the focus was on filling seats as opposed to supporting quality start-up businesses and second, the use of  “the shining stars” as demonstrators or role-models for would-be entrepreneurs  rather than “people [who] can explain what the graft is and are still on the graft,[so] there is a bit more reality to it” (Interview 9).

Business exiting was an area where there were divergent opinions. Some were in favour of selling out successful businesses and felt it was good for the entrepreneur to reap the rewards of their hard work and that this provided encouragement for others to try entrepreneurship and made the entrepreneur available to use his/her skills in the next start up. Others took a diametrically opposite view and felt that entrepreneurs may sell out too early. One business owner felt that good businesses are hard won and a mechanism should be found to keep successful ICT companies in Irish ownership.

A more recent driver was the development of the investment infrastructure and venture capital availability.  Funding was mentioned by the state agency respondents but also by some of the respondents with entrepreneurial experience. In the literature various researchers identified the period around 1998 as a time when venture capital become more available in Ireland. This more entrepreneurial climate, with good start-up companies, was identified as a driver both to drive the domestic economy and as an attractor for foreign investment.

eddy-and-sarah-davis

Author: My name is Sarah Davis and I work on European research projects related to entrepreneurship with the Hincks Centre for Entrepreneurship Excellence in Cork Institute of Technology (sarah.davis@cit.ie). I was fortunate enough to be awarded The José Maria Veciana Best Paper at the RENT XXIX Conference for the research paper based on my Master’s Thesis. This award validated the choices I made to stay true to my research questions and to find the best way to answer the questions, as posed. It meant taking a road less travelled and not narrowing my focus. I did not do it alone. Even though it was a single person research project, I was supported along the way by funding from my sponsors, The Irish-American Partnership, an excellent supervisor, and an external project mentor with a vast store of knowledge, as well as the work of all of the other researchers whose work inspired and informed my own.

 

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.

newcastle_advertisement
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.

hatt_blog-post

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.

References

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.

startify7

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:

Finance
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.

Confidence
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.

Risk
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.

Information
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