The head of a private high school in the United States recently reached out to me, concerned about the school’s three-year-old entrepreneurship program. The students were not working on innovative solutions and were not launching businesses based on their ideas. She wanted my guidance on what they were doing wrong and how the school could inspire these 15- to 18-year-olds to be more innovative.
I asked how she defined and measured her program’s success. Unsurprisingly, her North Star included students designing tech-driven innovations and launching businesses to get solutions to market. But teaching entrepreneurship to get your students to produce the next cutting-edge device is akin to sending your kids to a soccer program believing they will become the next Lionel Messi. This type of magical thinking is misaligned and will lead many youth and educators to believe falsely that they have failed due to incomplete measures of success.
Understanding the Difference Between Outputs and Outcomes
Unfortunately, the school leader’s key metric for success was an output—the number of innovative ideas and businesses that the students generated—instead of outcomes. Outcomes measure true learning: changes in beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. When we conflate the two, we move toward the wrong goal post.
As I explained to the school leader, “I’m not convinced that your program is unsuccessful; I’m concerned that you’re not measuring the right outcomes and success measures.”
What Should the Goal of Youth Entrepreneurship Education Be?
Correlating entrepreneurship with venture creation alone leaves out the most important outcomes—the development of future leaders who have the social-emotional skills and agency to solve sticky problems while navigating uncertainty, managing failure, and maintaining grit and resilience throughout their journey.
Research demonstrates that social-emotional skills can play a positive role in academic achievement, resiliency, and future success, while supporting decreases in mental health issues. This is especially important after three years of a global pandemic. We are now in a growing global educational crisis: widening gaps in equal access to quality education, increased global learning poverty, surging mental health issues, and decreases in resiliency levels among youth.
Social-emotional skills play a key role in the future of our planet on a personal, local, national, and global level—and should be used to measure the success of entrepreneurship education. We must train educators to cultivate entrepreneurs with these skills so they can address challenges, find solutions, and when appropriate, launch business ventures that create economic and social value.
How Babson’s Youth Impact Lab Teaches Entrepreneurial Thinking
As director of Babson’s Youth Impact Lab, I work with young people around the world—and their educators, coaches, and school leaders—who are trying to solve problems and seize opportunities. As a result, I have designed the Entrepreneurship Program for Innovators and Changemakers (EPIC), which increases youths’ agency, critical thinking, and social-emotional skills through experiential entrepreneurship education.
We show them how to:
- Identify their skills, expertise, and passion
- Recognize that learning with and through other people leads to greater success
- Embrace failure as part of learning
- Fall in love with the problem they want to solve—not with their first solution
This entrepreneurial approach to problem-solving helps them persevere through the challenges of delivering a solution to market.
Measuring Outcomes for Students—and Educators
At Babson, we use pre- and post-testing data to continuously strengthen programs, defining program success as cultivating students who:
- Increase their agency to solve problems and identify multiple solutions
- Work with and through others to determine feasibility
- Understand the needs of individuals facing the identified problems
- Develop a high level of grit that allows them to continue through the ups and downs of their entrepreneurial journey
Recent findings from our program have demonstrated statistically significant increases in entrepreneurial self-efficacy, critical thinking, and social awareness, as well as overall increases in students’ grit, learning self-efficacy, and growth mindset.
In addition, we have seen statistically significant increases in educators’ teaching self-efficacy in the entrepreneurship domain, entrepreneurial self-efficacy, and entrepreneurial identity after they participate in our Certificate in Youth Entrepreneurship professional development program.
Answering the Call
If educators can provide these critical experiences to students, then we have done our job to cultivate the next generation of entrepreneurial thinkers that the world needs. Believing we must create the next Steve Jobs is unrealistic and unnecessary. School leaders need to reset their view of the goal of entrepreneurship education.
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