Universities don’t do enough to foster an environment of entrepreneurship.
Certainly, some do. Stanford and MIT come to mind as great examples. But what about in Canada?
I’ve been speaking with a lot of people about hiring. The folks at Code Genome, for example, just recorded their first video job ad looking for a Web Developer. In almost all cases, companies are willing to hire developers and programmers out of university, but they’re looking for more than the basic knowledge they gain in their classes. It’s not enough that you learned C++ in a couple classes, what else have you done?
The frustration among many companies is clear; university graduates are coming out with very little enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, and very little sense of what’s going on beyond their classroom walls. Blogging? Social media? Ruby on Rails?
Montreal’s tech scene is exploding. Between regular BarCamps, DemoCamps, other unconferences and monthly Tech Entrepreneur Breakfasts there’s no shortage of opportunities for university students to get out there, network and connect.
But at the last BarCamp I only met one university student. And only one student has ever shown up to the entrepreneur breakfasts (that I’m aware of). Incidentally, that student found a great job at an awesome startup in Montreal. Not because he went to the entrepreneur breakfast specifically, but because he was plugged into what’s going on.
Why aren’t more students plugged in? And for that matter, why aren’t more teachers plugged in?
Entrepreneurship isn’t something that should be taught exclusively to business students. It should be taught across multiple disciplines. And more than that, it should be fostered more aggressively and continuously within university environments. The same holds true for things like blogging, social media, networking, etc.
The sooner we open students’ eyes up to the possibilities, the better. Start in highschool. And by the time students are in university they should already be thinking about businesses they’re going to start, and they should have the support infrastructure in place to help.
A couple weeks ago I received an email from a McGill student. Along with another student he’s started a business. I was glad they reached out. And I expressed my frustration with the lack of entrepreneurs coming out of university. His response was, “I think it’s a function of what’s being taught.”
Firstly, it was nice to hear of people in university trying to build a business. Secondly, I agree with this fellow, but I think it goes beyond that. It’s a cultural thing. Universities shouldn’t be spitting out graduates that are designed to find jobs in huge companies, treated like cogs, with the expectation that they’ll work there till they retire. Those days are over.
Universities Need To Develop Entrepreneurs
It starts with a cultural shift. Easier said than done, but if a university like McGill can understand the importance of entrepreneurship for society, then it can look for ways to help.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do want to make some suggestions (and not just complain!)
- Teach Entrepreneurship. There are lots of ways to do this, but encourage students in non-business disciplines to study entrepreneurship. Get Computer Science and Engineering students taking a few classes on starting businesses, etc.
- Provide Startup Services. Universities have lots of resources. Setup some support services – lawyers, bookkeeping, mentorship programs – stuff that all entrepreneurs need but don’t know how to find at such an early stage. More than likely, universities will want an equity position out of startups in a case like this, and that’s fine, but keep it reasonable.
- Bring in Guest Lecturers. Sometimes, people just need a little inspiration and a wee push. There are plenty of great entrepreneurs in Montreal and elsewhere that should be willing to come in and speak for a couple hours about their experiences…especially if they came out of university and started a business. Show students that there’s more than just a “day job” waiting for them.
- Encourage Experimentation with New Technology. Universities are always behind the times, it’s just the way it is. But it can’t be that hard to offer up a class or two that are based on experimentation with new technology. I think of these as “work classes.” Go build a project in a new technology, something the university doesn’t teach, and then teach the class what you did. Everyone benefits.
- More Co-Op Programs. Every single Computer Science and Computer Engineering student should be doing some amount of co-op work. Get them placed in a job somewhere, preferably a small company or startup and let them experience the real world.
- Get Teachers and Students Connected. Teachers and students should be very well connected with the rest of the world. It’d be cool if a new university student, with all of his/her introductory materials, was also given a list of great local and non-local blogs/websites they should be reading. That would instantly tell a student, “There’s more to life than what you’ll learn here. Go read OnStartups and Venture Hacks.” Teachers should be following the local scene for events that they and their students would benefit from.
- Contests and Cash Prizes. A little motivation never hurt anyone, right? Get some corporate sponsored contests with cash prizes in place for business plans, business ideas, prototypes, etc. Get students working together, challenging one another and receiving real world feedback (plus cash!)
Universities are doing their students a disservice by not encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship. And companies – particularly startups and early stage ones – can’t find the right combination of technical, business and entrepreneurial skills and passion they so desperately need.