The Bermuda Triangle in Entrepreneurship Education: The Role of Social Capital in Entrepreneurial Learning
Paper i proceeding, 2015
Objectives. We aim to explore the relationship between the role of social capital and entrepreneurial learning by investigating the entrepreneurial journey of student and graduate entrepreneurs.
Prior Work. It is widely acknowledged that the most powerful resource of an entrepreneur is their network: individuals, groups or organisations that support, advice and even finance an entrepreneur’s growth. Because of this, entrepreneurship education programmes have been using entrepreneurs to connect students to the ‘real world’, providing them an initial network of entrepreneurs and the skills to develop their own network. Nonetheless, the real impact of networking on students learning has not yet been fully explored.
Approach. This qualitative study uses unstructured interviews with three student and graduate entrepreneurs at both the University of Leeds and Chalmers University of Technology. Interviews focused on understanding the six entrepreneurs’ journey through entrepreneurial activities (critical incidents) and how social networks influenced these activities; interviewees were asked to reflect on their entrepreneurial journey, covering secondary school, university, post-university and expectations for the immediate future.
Results. Main findings evidenced that the UK three entrepreneurs started to show some kind of entrepreneurial behaviour during secondary school education. All respondents though increased their network awareness through their entrepreneurial journey: from “don’t know” to “know” to “need”. Moreover, at the beginning the network was mostly informal (family and friends), becoming more formal according to the increased complexity of the entrepreneurial activity. During their entrepreneurial journey, interviewees agreed that at the beginning nobody taught them how to be entrepreneur or even the skills they needed to carry on the entrepreneurial activity. But once their journey became more complex and serious, they needed skills and knowledge that they were not able to develop by their own; in that moment entrepreneurs realised that their network could provide them with people from who learn new capabilities, using informal learning processes to close the gap between their scarcities and needs.
Implications. The study exposes that networks facilitate entrepreneurial learning through informal learning processes which need to be translated into entrepreneurship education in a higher education context. One way is to legitimise social networking activities within the university environment, while another is embedding social networking into formal and non-formal entrepreneurship education.
Value. Social networking is not simply building a contact list; it is part of the social capital needed to help the entrepreneurial journey. This study exposes the previously missing value of social networking and encourages educators to embed activities within the curriculum that facilitate students’ informal learning.