7th Leipzig Entrepreneurship Lecture: “How can we teach entrepreneurship?”

Over 200 students and corporate representatives engaged in discussions about the latest trends in the field of entrepreneurship and innovation management at the 2017 Accelerate@HHL Entrepreneurship Conference held at HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management on April 21 and 22, 2017. Part of the conference was the 7th Leipzig Entrepreneurship Lecture. Prof. Dr. Sven Ripsas (Berlin School of Economics and Law), as well as two of HHL’s entrepreneurship Professors; Stephan Stubner and Vivek K. Velamuri, shared their practical experience from the entrepreneurship scene and shed light on entrepreneurship education from an academic point of view.

Failure is part of the game

The 7th Leipzig Entrepreneurship Lecture took place during the conference on April 21, 2017. HHL Dean Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart welcomed Prof. Dr. Ripsas as a guest speaker. Starting 20 years ago during the first entrepreneurship wave, Ripsas combines academia and practice in this field; He not only teaches Entrepreneurship at Berlin School of Economics and Law and collaborates with other entrepreneur professorships but also invests in promising start-ups. The professor deals with the key question of how to grade entrepreneurs in universities and highlights why this issue is so hard to grasp. For him, entrepreneurship is more an art and failure is part of the game. “Even the best team makes a lot of wrong assumptions. Keep some your money for the second or third start-up,” the professor says.

Teaching entrepreneurship is a learning process

He points out that teaching entrepreneurship is still at the very beginning in comparison with finance and marketing, which have been taught for more than 100 years. In entrepreneurship courses, writing business plans is an established discipline, laments Ripsas, “Writing a business plan is not the first thing we should talk about when it comes to founding a start-up. It won’t decide if you succeed or fail – it is just an idea of the future.”

On the contrary, for him the mission of the educational system must be to educate the entrepreneurial mindset as early as possible. Still, start-ups rate universities significantly better than high schools when it comes to teaching entrepreneurship: “Entrepreneurial thinking must be introduced much earlier in education,” Ripsas emphasizes.

Entrepreneurs must become discoverers

Ripsas’ recommendation is to understand entrepreneurship as a discovery of the market. It is important to be innovative and to keep improving one’s own business model. “When you have an idea, canvass your customers and collect experience with your customers. A business plan can always be written later on.” For him, German engineers are a good example of how to fail with the approach of finding the perfect solution for their customers before doing the market launch. They should understand entrepreneurship as a journey and iterative process. Furthermore, Ripsas advises following three important rules for being an entrepreneur; first, be authentic and show passion; second, be ambidextrous; and third, be agile.

During the subsequent panel discussion Prof. Ripsas covered aspects of entrepreneurship education with HHL’s Professors Stephan Stubner and Vivek K. Velamuri. The moderator was HHL Dean and Entrepreneurship Professor Dr. Andreas Pinkwart. Regarding the question of grading in entrepreneurship courses, Jun.-Prof. Velamuri said, “Grades are counterproductive in the entrepreneurship education. Unfortunately, the whole corporate world cares about grades”. Prof. Stubner, however, claimed that grades would give structure as well as incentive to the students.

The panel also touched upon the topic of cooperation between diverse types of universities such as business schools and technical universities. Prof. Stubner said, “There is a barrier between different disciplines due to various thinking, modes of working, and understanding. We, however, have conducted interdisciplinary business plan seminars for more than one decade at HHL because cooperation between the disciplines is important for our field.” As a positive example in this context, Prof. Pinkwart highlighted the fruitful collaboration of HHL with the Potsdam-based Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) in the mutual entrepreneurship education.

The 2017 Accelerate@HHL Entrepreneurship Conference, which was held in English, was organized by the Accelerate@HHL student initiative; the 7th Leipzig Entrepreneurship Lecture by HHL’s Stiftungsfonds Deutsche Bank Chair of Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship. Supporters of this year’s conference include gold sponsors zeb, Bertelsmann, KPMG, Media-Saturn SPACELAB – Tech Accelerator as well as silver and bronze sponsors trivago, ABInBev, the Association of Friends of HHL (GdF), the HHL Alumni Association, Rheingau Founders and Kompass Digital. www.hhl.de/accelerateconference