Executive education is not just a fast ticket to the top of a corporation; it can be a path into entrepreneurship. It may also make participants stronger leaders of their own businesses.
For example, Cambridge Judge Business School has been working with Barclays Bank to provide support to UK entrepreneurs. Since inception in 2018, the Barclays Scale Up UK program has helped 200 small businesses to grow. It’s one of a number of executive training programs run by leading business schools focused on entrepreneurship and innovation.
Cambridge Judge is now conducting research that suggests strong growth in sales, annual profit, employee number and market share among its 2020 participants.
Youping Han, a client relationship manager at the British business school, points out that only one in two start-ups survive their third anniversary, and many founding teams reach a plateau and struggle to grow their business further. “Executive education can help entrepreneurs address some core questions that their businesses face, including strategy, marketing, culture, recruitment and funding,” she says.
She points to potential impact in wider society, noting that entrepreneurs have played a key role in the British economy, but survival, productivity and growth rates of UK start-ups need improvement.
Likewise, Neil Tarallo, a senior lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation at Cornell’s Johnson College of Business, says there’s an ever-growing body of research demonstrating a correlation between education and successful entrepreneurial activity. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a research group, recently highlighted that access to formal education was linked to success in building companies that were resilient in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Tarallo says that executive education is also important in strengthening innovation within established corporations — known as intrapreneurship. “The world is changing at an ever-increasing pace and this presents a great challenge to executives at all levels,” he says. “Senior executives have come to understand the critical role innovation plays in creating competitive advantage and sustainable growth.”
Can entrepreneurship be taught?
Tarallo argues that entrepreneurship and innovation can be taught. He teaches on the Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset for Innovation and Growth program at Cornell in New York State, which is aimed at the hospitality sector.
The program aims to nurture innovation through providing an understanding of the behaviors and thought processes unique to entrepreneurs, as well as the tools to manage entrepreneurial processes. “The key [to teaching entrepreneurial skills] is to convey knowledge while focusing on execution,” says Tarallo.
Some people argue that entrepreneurs and innovators are born, or that learning-by-doing is more important than education. But Anu Wadhwa at Imperial College Business School in London says these abilities can be nurtured in those who already possess a baseline level. “Just like superstar athletes who are born with talent but need to be taught how to hone that skill, entrepreneurs need to be taught how to develop their innate skills,” she says.
Wadhwa leads the Innovation: A Design Thinking Approach program at Imperial College. Design thinking will involve generating several solutions before prototyping, testing and repeating that process until a winner emerges.
She says this process is becoming imperative for businesses to succeed. “In an age when uncertainty about new markets and technology require organizations to be agile and adaptive, everyone needs to be an innovator and an entrepreneur,” says Wadhwa.
Most of the participants come from large corporations and are looking to gain new knowledge and frameworks to become stronger innovation leaders. She adds that companies are encouraging employees in traditional corporate jobs to be far more intrapreneurial and to be on the lookout for fresh business opportunities.
“Participants return to their workplace with a better idea of how to lead and inspire others,” says Wadhwa.
Executive education can provide the opportunity to ‘test out’ entrepreneurial ideas
Elsewhere, ESCP Business School in Europe runs the Executive Master in Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership program, which helps executives to sharpen their skills in building and leading effective teams, in analytical and creative problem solving, in managing stress, communicating effectively, and in developing self-awareness.
Sven Scheid, who is head of entrepreneurship programs at the school, says executive education provides entrepreneurial thinkers with inspiration and the opportunity to test out their ideas in a safe environment. “Very often entrepreneurs and corporate innovation managers benefit from the mutual exchange,” he adds.
The program also focuses heavily on digitization, with Scheid noting that machines are matching human progress in processing, storing and communicating information.
“Developments in the deep tech areas (such as AI, blockchain, biotech) will create many novel opportunities in the future. So being aware of some of the key developments is very important.”