The Good, the Bad and The Ugly in Entrepreneurship Education

The Professional Development Workshop (PDW) about learning from good and bad experiences in entrepreneurship took place in early February 2021. In this workshop my colleagues and I, presented the fundaments of our innovative teaching and research methodology where learning from business failure and business closure is the central topic. We call it Project Fenix and during the past three years we have collected stories of entrepreneurial growth of vibrant companies who have experienced some kind of crisis. Success and failure are scenarios in the marvelous world of entrepreneurship, where the courage and decisiveness needed to start a business are just as important when it comes to shutting it down.

After 5 months of PDW there has been already some developments in this area, and I as one of the organizers share them with the community. The first one is the growing attention to vicarious learning to learn from difficult times, fueled mainly by the difficulties experienced during the global pandemic. Entrepreneurship education is showing a more realistic perspective of entrepreneurship with events where both the positive and negative sides of launching a startup or running a business are being mentioned. The participants of the PDW shared our observation that many students in entrepreneurship programs become very well equipped to learn from successful and accomplished entrepreneurs and to take over the world, so to speak. However, we also noticed that students lack skills to spot signals of businesses about to fail. As such, students were not aware of the necessary paperwork to close a company, nor the consequences of company failure for the staff or for themselves, and lacked understanding of how to deal with such difficult situations.

As such, students were not aware of the necessary paperwork to close a company, nor the consequences of company failure for the staff or for themselves, and lacked understanding of how to deal with such difficult situations.

A second development is the use of the Fenix Database (approximately 750 stories so far) by Master and Bachelor students in their thesis. Students acquired access to the anonymised stories and carried out research to learn about role models in entrepreneurship education, the use of networks in recovery processes and about the change in future perspectives after an experience of business failure. Together with research activities, the lessons from entrepreneurs and advisors have been translated into a wide variety of educational products and teaching materials: reflection for students, integral parts of business plans, media products, and research proposals. We keep being encouraged when students come back to tell us how much they learn from business failure, and how useful would it be for them to know more about prevention and dealing with crisis in their curriculum.

A third development is informing business advisors as a way to reach a broader public. The PDW of February was meant to target educators and coaches, especially those looking for teaching and assessment inspiration to better prepare student entrepreneurs for the turbulent journey of setting up and running own businesses. Besides, it also targeted researchers who are interested in a model for research design which links them up with students, educators and the real businesses via an innovative methodology plugged in entrepreneurship modules. The missing piece was to interact with a broader public, which is now being achieved in the testing of the final products for a project about early warning signals for business crisis called SmartUp. Fenix Project lays a strong foundation in providing a framework of existing knowledge in this topic, that is used for the current  development of an online course for educators and advisors in the field of entrepreneurship.

At last, a strong partnership to collaborate is paying off. Newcastle Business School is a wonderful partner, not only for adopting Project Fenix but also adapting it in the best way possible in their curriculum. At the same time, we have learned from their unique module on business closure. Together, we are publishing a book about the lessons of Project Fenix; this book shall be available (digital and paper copies) at the end of summer of 2021. It is very important for us to keep working with partners beyond the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, who share this view of learning from the bad times in entrepreneurship.

We hope to cross paths soon again with those who participated in the PDW of February, or with other like-minded ones with interest in the topic of learning from the good, the bad and the ugly in entrepreneurship. We would be pleased if you become a new companion on this journey; so we invite you to join Project Fenix to collaborate and learn better from business failure and closure. In the near future we hope to expand this teaching and research methodology to other languages, and hope to strengthen the collaboration with colleagues all over Europe and the world.

Author: JuanFra Alvarado Valenzuela
Senior Researcher at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

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