As a part of my course into intrapreneurship and the entrepreneurial mindset I studied, together with my research colleague M.Sc. (edu) Hanna Laalo, how business students construct entrepreneurship. Our research paid particular attention to how students construct their self-image as entrepreneurs. During the course students participated in different entrepreneurial individual and group assignments as well as reflected on what they had learned in a learning diary. Our research used texts written by students during and after the course as data – the students were guided to ponder on what is an entrepreneurial individual, an entrepreneurial organisation and whether they were themselves entrepreneurial.
The agile achiever and the responsible citizen
Our results show that for students’ entrepreneurs are constructed as agile achievers and responsible citizens. An agile achiever is understood to be a highly innovative, but also individualistic and social. He is courageous, flexible and is able to move quickly from one situation to another. Although an agile achiever is seen to represent many positive aspects he was not necessarily seen as either well behaved nor well organised: in fact, the agile achiever construct was linked to chaotic behaviour, arrogance and selfishness.
As a counterweight to the agile achiever, the responsible citizen is a collaborative self-developer who through their own initiative and tenacity contributes added value to society. This kind of entrepreneurism cam be present in both entrepreneur and employee roles, but also outside of working life – as a citizen, parent or student. The responsible citizen is both responsible and goal oriented. They work both diligently and eagerly towards the twin goals of self-development and learning. What is interesting here is that student constructions of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurialism broadened during the course. By the end, entrepreneurialism was less constructed based on an individual’s success and business activity, but more as an entrepreneurial mindset and way of approaching matters. This is to say; entrepreneurialism became more everyday – moving away from the heroism that had been connected to it.
I myself as an entrepreneur
Students did not categorically see themselves as either entrepreneurs or non-entrepreneurs. Recognising entrepreneurialism in themselves was connected to wanting and needing to develop themselves in response to changes around them – especially in working life. Career goals and achieving them also played a role. Entrepreneurialism was easy to identify with as it was seen to be a kind of working life ideal. Entrepreneurialism seemed distant when own personality and character were seen to be less entrepreneurial. Students pondered critically on their capability to take risk and deal with uncertainty. In those cases, they also did not consider an entrepreneurial career to be a realistic alternative.
As student constructions of entrepreneurialism broadened through the course, so too did student’s perception and attitudes towards entrepreneurship. Hesitation and criticality changed to confidence in one’s own skills. Students found it easy to identify at least some aspects of entrepreneurialism in themselves.
Entrepreneurialism can be learned
Our research shows that entrepreneurialism can be taught and learned. This, however, does not mean that this should be done in all situations. Naturally, teachers and researchers in higher education need to take responsibility and to ensure that students are not offered only one truth or alternative. Students need to be encouraged towards critical thinking – even regarding entrepreneurship.
The author of this blog is Professor of Entrepreneurship Jarna Heinonen of the University of Turku. Her research centres on intrapreneurship, entrepreneurship education, family business and entrepreneurship and innovation policy.
This blog post is based on an article published in the European Educational Research Journal: Laalo, H. & Heinonen, J. Governing the entrepreneurial mindset: Business students´ constructions of entrepreneurial subjectivity. DOI: 10.1177/1474904116662288