The quest for increasing regional competitiveness by building various kinds of innovation support systems very seldomly takes the people populating these innovation systems enough into account. It is often implicitly assumed that an innovative region’s support system will be amply populated just because it exists. Entrepreneurial individuals are assumed to self-select into the system and take advantage of various support mechanisms. Reality is probably far from this assumed ideal world. The percentage of a population that engages in self-employment activity seldom reaches above single-digit figures, and the quest for increasing this specific figure is often conducted in implicit and ill-defined ways.
Entrepreneurship and enterprise education are often stated to act as a mediator increasing the amount of people choosing an entrepreneurial career in society. The problem is however that to date (to my knowledge) no study on impact of entrepreneurial education has been able to escape the self-selection bias issue, since most entrepreneurial education is voluntary. A recent example is the EU-financed study on “Effects and impact of entrepreneurship programmes in higher education”, conducted by EIM Business & Policy Research in Netherlands (featuring Chalmers and 8 other higher education institutions deemed to be of high standard). The authors briefly comment on the self-selection bias issue, and state that “the latitude of the bias seems to be small considering the relatively limited differences in personal characteristics prior to higher education”. As so often, a very discomforting handling of this crucial issue.
This issue is one reason I find venture creation programs so interesting from a societal impact perspective. They cross the border between voluntary venture creation and mandatory curriculum-based activities. Not that this kind of programs are mandatory to anyone, but because many of those signing up for this kind of programs probably don’t understand what kind of transformative journey they have signed up for, thereby increasing the amount of people that get an opportunity to try out entrepreneurship without having to take the risky plunge into the usual voluntary extra-curricular support systems designed for those that have already taken the leap of faith.
I think that we need to supply more opportunities for people to discover an entrepreneurial way of doing things in life both by starting companies and by doing other kinds of action-based value creation activities in educational settings. But then we need more ample access than today to the core educational activities that a majority of our populations are required to attend to. Only then will we be able to escape the single-digit figures of population share choosing an entrepreneurial career. Today we only expose single-digit share of the population for even the slightest chance to be contaminated by the entrepreneurial bug.
This is a flaw of most innovation policy work today I fear. One light in the darkness was seen in my home country of Sweden recently, when a national innovation strategy was decided upon by the Swedish government that actually puts the individual in focus rather than all other things usually focused upon – technology, patents, capital, systems, organisations, etc etc etc (long list). This has potential to lead to concrete activities aiming at changing people’s mindsets before it is too late.
After all, show me an example when entrepreneurial value was created without involving people… Trying to positively influence people’s attitudes to entrepreneurial ways of life through the educational system might be worth increased efforts, provided that the poitical aims are justified. And since when is education free from politics? It just simply isn’t, so why pretend it is?