I often share how important I think entrepreneurship education is as we prepare students for today’s evolving business world. Given Northeastern’s emphasis on experiential learning, it is no coincidence that we are so committed to entrepreneurship education. In fact, I believe that working to define and begin building a new enterprise from scratch is the ultimate experiential learning opportunity for college students. It’s an experience many of our students are guided through with the support of our entrepreneurial ecosystem and IDEA: Northeastern University’s student-led venture accelerator.

Consider the entrepreneurial process. At one level, it involves deep, conceptual thinking as the nascent entrepreneur identifies new opportunities for potential value creation, which don’t yet exist in the market. At another level, it requires that the entrepreneur develops a sophisticated understanding of the industry and competitive context that her venture will compete in. And at yet another level, it requires that the entrepreneur thinks about all aspects of the proposed business in a holistic, integrated way so that she can begin developing an organization that is best positioned to capture the identified opportunity and build a sustainable competitive advantage.

When business students are asked to define and actually begin building new businesses, they find that they must apply concepts from all of the core courses that they have studied (e.g., strategy, finance, accounting, operations, marketing, organizational behavior, leadership, entrepreneurship). And when students in other colleges are asked to do the same, they find that they, too, must translate the higher-level concepts and theories that they have learned in their engineering, science, social science, and humanities classes into well-defined hypotheses about what will actually work best in a particular applied context. The entrepreneur must be a master at matching a concept to the right context and in the process develops a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the concepts she was first introduced to in our classrooms. You can’t develop successful entrepreneurs in the classroom alone. Similarly, not much learning takes place when students are asked to devise business plans without first providing them with conceptual frameworks and tools that guide students through the rigorous thought process that underlies any successful venture launch.

Northeastern’s President, Joseph Aoun, has expressed this entrepreneurship education philosophy quite compellingly. He explains that, universities like Northeastern that offer both conceptual and experiential learning opportunities in entrepreneurship for all of their students will not only birth more successful businesses but, perhaps more importantly, will also birth many more professionals with the entrepreneurial mindsets necessary to drive innovation and progress in all sectors of our society.

Hugh Courtney

Professor, International Business and Strategy; International Business and Strategy Group Chair