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Entrepreneurship Education an Oxymoron? Can Entrepreneurs be taught how to do business?

? If your answer is in the affirmative, then I may safely assume that you consider business as a scientific process rather than an art. But then, most self made / first generation entrepreneurs will tell you that doing business is more of an art than a science and is hugely individualistic. Further weakening the argument that business can be taught is the fact that many of the worlds super rich and successful businesspeople have been school drop outs or have not had formal education , let alone a management degree. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Dhirubhai Ambani are glaring examples. But then, the counter argument would be that there are many educated businessmen around who too have been successful- Narayan Murthy, for instance. That argument too holds water. So now we have a dilemma and our question comes full circle Can you really teach how to do business? The question can be answered in a slightly diplomatic way. Our school and college education system was designed originally by the Colonial Britain, in order to churn out employees and service classes. No doubt, the education system has upgraded over the last few decades. But that is the whole problem. We ended up just upgrading, without changing the foundation. Thus even today, our schools and colleges churn out employment-ready youngsters as the system is so designed. Management education seemed to be the answer. Management graduates learn in a case-study mode as opposed to text-book mode and that clearly is a positive. Case study and collective learning does help but once again there is a slight flaw here. Most of the case studies analysed and discussed test the students analytical response if he was a manager who essentially again is an employee not an entrepreneur! So then, we further boil down to the Entrepreneurship courses. These courses come nearest to the real-life of an entrepreneur. My own perception is that Entrepreneurship, apart from the basic working knowledge, is more about the soft skills that one requires day in and day out. The ability to deal tactically with your employees, customers, suppliers, stake holders; and the ability to identify, analyse and eventually take that risky decision, and in the process, become ready to take on the consequence of the decisions. Whether these things can be taught remains a question. Of course some workshops try to use situational analysis and games to teach you these things but ask yourself and you will realise that your reaction to particular situation in a workshop would be much different when you encounter it in real life! The workshop only provides you with food for thought that such situation may arise- your response can never be standardised! But one mode of entrepreneurship education which I presume could go a long way in helping entrepreneurs is the mentorship process. A mentor would essentially be one who has been there and done that and hence he would be in a better position to provide vital inputs to the budding entrepreneur on how to deal with a situation or a proposal. The mentors role would be, as expected, of a guiding angel who just shows the direction, according to his own best judgement. And it is this education that every entrepreneur needs to not only succeed but keep succeeding in business!

CA Rajiv D Khatlawala