The contribution of universities to student and graduate entrepreneurs' social capital: a current fairytale?
Conference contribution, 2016
This paper explores how universities contribute to the acquisition of social capital of their student and graduate entrepreneurs. The objective is to identify under what circumstances universities facilitate this in the context of entrepreneurial learning. The study builds on collaboration between three European universities: Chalmers University of Technology, Universidad de Malaga and University of Leeds.
Entrepreneurial learning and education literature underpin this study. Stemming from this, the theoretical framework is complemented by research about the impact of social capital on entrepreneurs’ development, and its relevance to the concept of the entrepreneurial university.
A qualitative methodological approach involving critical incident technique is used to map student and graduate entrepreneurs’ entrepreneurial journey based on a timeline, specifying stakeholders associated with critical events (entrepreneurial activities of any kind). A visual aid technique was used throughout the interview to assist interviewees in recalling their verbal history. 24 individuals fulfilling criteria: (1) university final year students or first year after graduation; (2) have or were engaged in some entrepreneurial activity; (3) 50% completed some formal entrepreneurship education were interviewed. Nvivo was used to analyse the data through narrative analysis of the social informal learning; i.e. how interviewees learned from others what they needed to learn in order to carry out their entrepreneurial activities.
Preliminary analyses of the data identified that entrepreneurship education programmes in these universities engage experienced entrepreneurs to connect students to the ‘real world’, providing them an initial network of role models, as well as skills to develop their own network. It seems that respondents’ entrepreneurial learning follows a pattern. Early stages of the entrepreneurial journey relied on informal learning. As respondents’ entrepreneurial activities expand to include a more complex structure and wider network of stakeholders, they became aware of their need of a more formal learning. To satisfy this need, respondents engaged in non-formal education programmes and, when necessary, they enrolled in formal education programmes. Nevertheless, respondents also used other informal learning sources to cover their self-perceived knowledge gaps. Consequently, this illustrates how interdisciplinarity and entrepreneurship reaches beyond business school learning.
Results also suggest that the intertwining of social capital and learning in entrepreneurship occurs before university, from the very first moment that respondents engage in some type of entrepreneurial activity. However, the university is vital in facilitating integrated understanding and developed maturity to manage the complexity of formal, non-formal and informal learning. This comprehensive understanding becomes an essential part of the respondents’ entrepreneurial social capital.
This paper contributes by exposing the previously missing value of social networking in entrepreneurship education at universities. At an institutional-level, it legitimises university inclusion of social networking activities into formal and non-formal entrepreneurship education, and encouragement of informal entrepreneurship learning. Moreover, at an individual-level, it motivates educators to embed these activities within the curriculum in order to facilitate entrepreneurial learning. Considering that social networking goes beyond simply building a contact list and that it is part of the social capital necessary for the entrepreneurial journey, this study exposes the previously missing value of social networking in entrepreneurial education programmes. It encourages educators to embed social networking activities into the curriculum to facilitate entrepreneurial learning. The study highlights the importance of social capital acquired at university, as part of student/graduate entrepreneurial journeys. This revitalises the role of the university as a key enabler of economic, social and cultural impact through student/graduate entrepreneurs. Thus, the fairy tale question is answered: universities contribution to student and graduate entrepreneurs’ social capital is no longer a fantasy.
Future research needs to be focus on understanding the student/graduate entrepreneurial journey, considering not only entrepreneurial activities as critical incidents, but also other interactions in the entrepreneur’s life. Moreover, the inclusion of other countries and universities to identify a clearer pattern of how universities contribute to acquisition of social capital of their student and graduate entrepreneurs.