Unlocking the B-School Entrepreneur Within

Unlocking the B-School Entrepreneur Within

How can we foster more entrepreneurial spirit and help turn invention and enthusiasm into businesses that create wealth and jobs?

The business school community is more than happy to volunteer its services on this—you’d be hard-pressed to find a school these days that doesn’t offer some form of course or program devoted to developing entrepreneurs.

However, none of these institutions will claim that they can conjure up a successful entrepreneur out of thin air. Their job, they say, is to shape raw material, to bring out and hone potential. Which leads to the question: How do I know if I have that potential? Because if you don’t, you might be better off keeping your feet planted firmly under a corporate desk and your cash safely in the bank.

Pablo Martin de Holan, a professor at France’s EM Lyon Business School, heads the Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP), a joint effort of Lyon, Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, and China’s Zhejiang University. According to de Holan, it could be time for hard science to help devise an answer. He is calling for more research into what he calls “neuro-entrepreneurship”—using the tools of neuroscience to better understand how the brains of entrepreneurs work and, as a corollary, whether you might possess an entrepreneurial brain yourself.

This doesn’t mean he is suggesting that business school candidates should undergo an MRI scan along with their GMAT or GRE test. But he does point out that if neuroscientists and business school professors got together to map out what happens inside the head of an effective entrepreneur, it might give insight into what can be taught and what is either hard-wired or simply absent. And it might also help to inhibit the “dark side” of entrepreneurship, stopping the propensity for risk from getting out of hand and leading to crackpot ideas, such as “no-documentation” mortgage approvals.

Beyond the mind there is the mindset, or what de Holan describes as entrepreneurial attitude. This is where I can see business schools hitting a sweet spot, if they can encourage students to challenge their assumptions and view things differently, while providing them with the tools and framework to pursue their ideas.

The GEP program, for example, takes the view that today’s entrepreneurs need frontline exposure to key markets outside their comfort zones, and consequently splits its students’ time between France, Indiana, and China. In such circumstances, what is happening in their frontal lobes is perhaps less important than what is happening outside the classroom window.

But what the science lab might show us is that the inner entrepreneur could be a lot more common—and much easier to liberate with the right encouragement—than anyone might have thought.

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